The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah emerged during the Iron Age. The Neo-Assyrian Empire destroyed Israel around 720 BCE. Judah was later conquered by the Babylonian, Persian and Hellenistic empires and had existed as Jewish autonomous provinces. The successful Maccabean Revolt led to an independent Jewish kingdom in 110 BCE, which came to an end in 63 BCE when Judea became a client state of the Roman Republic. Judea lasted as a Roman province until the failed Jewish revolts resulted in widespread destruction, expulsion of Jewish population and the renaming of the region from Iudaea to Syria Palaestina. Jewish presence in the Land of Israel has persisted over the centuries. In the 7th century Palestine was taken from the Byzantine Empire by the Arabs and remained in Muslim control until the First Crusade of 1099, followed by the Ayyubid conquest of 1187. The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt extended its control over the Levant in the 13th century until its defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. During the 19th century, national awakening among Jews led to the establishment of the Zionist movement followed by waves of immigration to Ottoman and later British Palestine.
In 1947, the United Nations adopted a Partition Plan for Palestine recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and an internationalized Jerusalem. The plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and rejected by Arab leaders. Next year, the Jewish Agency declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." Israel has since fought several wars with neighboring Arab states, in the course of which it has occupied territories including the West Bank, Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. It extended its laws to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, but not the West Bank. Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories is the world's longest military occupation in modern times. Efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have not resulted in peace. However, peace treaties between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan have successfully been implemented.
The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was estimated in 2017 to be 8,774,360 people. It is the world's only Jewish-majority state, with 74.8% being designated as Jewish. The country's second largest population group are Arabs, at 20.8%. The great majority of Israeli Arabs are Sunni Muslims, including significant numbers of semi-settled Negev Bedouins; the rest are Christians and Druze. Other minorities include Arameans, Armenians, Assyrians, Black Hebrew Israelites, Circassians, Maronites and Samaritans. Israel also hosts a significant population of non-citizen foreign workers and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia, including illegal migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and other Sub-Saharan Africans.
In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage. The prime minister is head of government and the Knesset is the legislature. Israel is a developed country and an OECD member, with the 34th-largest economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product as of 2016. The country benefits from a highly skilled workforce and is among the most educated countries in the world with one of the highest percentages of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. Israel has the highest standard of living in the Middle East, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Upon independence in 1948, the country formally adopted the name "State of Israel" (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל Medīnat Yisrā'el [mediˈnat jisʁaˈʔel]; Arabic: دَوْلَة إِسْرَائِيل Dawlat Isrāʼīl [dawlat ʔisraːˈʔiːl]) after other proposed historical and religious names including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were considered but rejected. In the early weeks of independence, the government chose the term "Israeli" to denote a citizen of Israel, with the formal announcement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Sharett.
The names Land of Israel and Children of Israel have historically been used to refer to the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the entire Jewish people respectively. The name "Israel" ( Yisraʾel, Isrāʾīl; Septuagint Greek: Ἰσραήλ Israēl; 'El(God) persists/rules', though after Hosea 12:4 often interpreted as "struggle with God") in these phrases refers to the patriarch Jacob who, according to the Hebrew Bible, was given the name after he successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord. Jacob's twelve sons became the ancestors of the Israelites, also known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Children of Israel. Jacob and his sons had lived in Canaan but were forced by famine to go into Egypt for four generations, lasting 430 years, until Moses, a great-great grandson of Jacob, led the Israelites back into Canaan during the "Exodus". The earliest known archaeological artifact to mention the word "Israel" as a collective is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE).
The area is also known as the Holy Land, being holy for all Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. From 1920, the whole region was known as Palestine (under British Mandate) until the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948. Through the centuries, the territory was known by a variety of other names, including Canaan, Djahy, Samaria, Judea, Yehud, Iudaea, Coele-Syria, Syria Palaestina and Southern Syria.
The oldest evidence of early humans in the territory of modern Israel, dating to 1.5 million years ago, was found in Ubeidiya near the Sea of Galilee. Other notable Paleolithic sites include caves Tabun, Qesem and Manot. The oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found outside Africa are the Skhul and Qafzeh hominins, who lived in the area that is now northern Israel 120,000 years ago. Around 10th millennium BCE, the Natufian culture existed in the area.
The early history of the territory is unclear. Modern archaeology has largely discarded the historicity of the narrative in the Torah concerning the patriarchs, The Exodus, and the conquest described in the Book of Joshua, and instead views the narrative as constituting the Israelites' inspiring national myth. Ancestors of the Israelites may have included ancient Semitic-speaking peoples native to Canaan. The Israelites and their culture, according to the modern archaeological account, did not overtake the region by force, but instead branched out of the Canaanite peoples and culture through the development of a distinct monolatristic—and later monotheistic—religion centered on Yahweh. The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centres, but with more limited resources and a small population. Villages had populations of up to 300 or 400, which lived by farming and herding, and were largely self-sufficient; economic interchange was prevalent. Writing was known and available for recording, even in small sites.
While it is unclear if there was ever a United Monarchy, there is well accepted archeological evidence referring to "Israel" in the Merneptah Stele which dates to about 1200 BCE; and the Canaanites are archeologically attested in the Middle Bronze Age. There is debate about the earliest existence of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their extent and power, but historians agree that a Kingdom of Israel existed by ca. 900 BCE and that a Kingdom of Judah existed by ca. 700 BCE. The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed around 720 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
In 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon's Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The defeat was also recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. The Babylonian exile ended around 538 BCE under the rule of the Persian Cyrus the Great after he captured Babylon. The Second Temple was constructed around 520 BCE. As part of the Persian Empire, the former Kingdom of Judah became the province of Judah (Yehud Medinata) with different borders, covering a smaller territory. The population of the province was greatly reduced from that of the kingdom, archaeological surveys showing a population of around 30,000 people in the 5th to 4th centuries BCE.
With successive Persian rule, the autonomous province Yehud Medinata was gradually developing back into urban society, largely dominated by Judeans. The Greek conquests largely skipped the region without any resistance or interest. Incorporated into Ptolemaic and finally Seleucid empires, the southern Levant was heavily hellenized, building the tensions between Judeans and Greeks. The conflict erupted in 167 BCE with the Maccabean Revolt, which succeeded in establishing an independent Hasmonean Kingdom in Judah, which later expanded over much of modern Israel, as the Seleucids gradually lost control in the region.
The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BCE, first taking control of Syria, and then intervening in the Hasmonean Civil War. The struggle between pro-Roman and pro-Parthian factions in Judea eventually led to the installation of Herod the Great and consolidation of the Herodian kingdom as a vassal Judean state of Rome. With the decline of the Herodian dynasty, Judea, transformed into a Roman province, became the site of a violent struggle of Jews against Greco-Romans, culminating in the Jewish–Roman wars, ending in wide-scale destruction, expulsions, and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.
Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. The region came to be populated predominantly by Greco-Romans on the coast and Samaritans in the hill-country. Christianity was gradually evolving over Roman paganism, when the area stood under Byzantine rule. Through the 5th and 6th centuries, the dramatic events of the repeated Samaritan revolts reshaped the land, with massive destruction to Byzantine Christian and Samaritan societies and a resulting decrease of the population. After the Persian conquest and the installation of a short-lived Jewish Commonwealth in 614 CE, the Byzantine Empire reconquered the country in 628.
In 634–641 CE, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by the Arabs who had just recently adopted Islam. Control of the region transferred between the Rashidun Caliphs, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Crusaders, and Ayyubids throughout the next three centuries.
During the siege of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099, the Jewish inhabitants of the city fought side by side with the Fatimid garrison and the Muslim population who tried in vain to defend the city against the Crusaders. When the city fell, about 60,000 people were massacred, including 6,000 Jews seeking refuge in a synagogue. At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known and include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza. According to Albert of Aachen, the Jewish residents of Haifa were the main fighting force of the city, and "mixed with Saracen [Fatimid] troops", they fought bravely for close to a month until forced into retreat by the Crusader fleet and land army. However, Joshua Prawer expressed doubt over the story, noting that Albert did not attend the Crusades and that such a prominent role for the Jews is not mentioned by any other source.
In 1165, Maimonides visited Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount, in the "great, holy house." In 1141 the Spanish-Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi issued a call for Jews to migrate to the Land of Israel, a journey he undertook himself. In 1187 Sultan Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and subsequently captured Jerusalem and almost all of Palestine. In time, Saladin issued a proclamation inviting Jews to return and settle in Jerusalem, and according to Judah al-Harizi, they did: "From the day the Arabs took Jerusalem, the Israelites inhabited it." Al-Harizi compared Saladin's decree allowing Jews to re-establish themselves in Jerusalem to the one issued by the Persian king Cyrus the Great over 1,600 years earlier.
In 1211, the Jewish community in the country was strengthened by the arrival of a group headed by over 300 rabbis from France and England, among them Rabbi Samson ben Abraham of Sens. Nachmanides (Ramban), the 13th-century Spanish rabbi and recognised leader of Jewry greatly praised the land of Israel and viewed its settlement as a positive commandment incumbent on all Jews. He wrote "If the gentiles wish to make peace, we shall make peace and leave them on clear terms; but as for the land, we shall not leave it in their hands, nor in the hands of any nation, not in any generation."
In 1260, control passed to the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. The country was located between the two centres of Mamluk power, Cairo and Damascus, and only saw some development along the postal road connecting the two cities. Jerusalem, although left without the protection of any city walls since 1219, also saw a flurry of new construction projects centred around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount. In 1266 the Mamluk Sultan Baybars converted the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron into an exclusive Islamic sanctuary and banned Christians and Jews from entering, which previously would be able to enter it for a fee. The ban remained in place until Israel took control of the building in 1967.
In 1470, Isaac b. Meir Latif arrived from Italy and counted 150 Jewish families in Jerusalem. Thanks to Joseph Saragossi who had arrived in the closing years of the 15th century, Safed and its environs had developed into the largest concentration of Jews in Palestine. With the help of the Sephardic immigration from Spain, the Jewish population had increased to 10,000 by the early 16th century.
In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire; it remained under Turkish rule until the end of the First World War, when Britain defeated the Ottoman forces and set up a military administration across the former Ottoman Syria. In 1920 the territory was divided between Britain and France under the mandate system, and the British-administered area which included modern day Israel was named Mandatory Palestine.
Since the existence of the earliest Jewish diaspora, many Jews have aspired to return to "Zion" and the "Land of Israel", though the amount of effort that should be spent towards such an aim was a matter of dispute. The hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile are an important theme of the Jewish belief system. After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine. During the 16th century, Jewish communities struck roots in the Four Holy Cities—Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem. In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.
The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, thus offering a solution to the so-called Jewish question of the European states, in conformity with the goals and achievements of other national projects of the time. In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), offering his vision of a future Jewish state; the following year he presided over the First Zionist Congress.
The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left eventually. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, that stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish "national home" within the Palestinian Mandate.
In 1918, the Jewish Legion, a group primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to British rule and Jewish immigration led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi, or the Stern Gang, paramilitary groups later split off. In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine under terms which included the Balfour Declaration with its promise to the Jews, and with similar provisions regarding the Arab Palestinians. The population of the area at this time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11%, and Arab Christians at about 9.5% of the population.
The Third (1919–23) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–29) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine. The rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews in 1930s Europe led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This was a major cause of the Arab revolt of 1936–39 during which the British Mandate authorities alongside the Zionist militias of Haganah and Irgun killed 5,032 Arabs and wounded 14,760, resulting in over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled. The British introduced restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine. By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.
After World War II, Britain found itself in intense conflict with the Jewish community over Jewish immigration limits, as well as continued conflict with the Arab community over limit levels. The Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in an armed struggle against British rule. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. The Yishuv attempted to bring these refugees to Palestine but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps in Atlit and Cyprus by the British.
On 22 July 1946, Irgun attacked the British administrative headquarters for Palestine, which was housed in the southern wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. A total of 91 people of various nationalities were killed and 46 were injured. The hotel was the site of the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. The attack initially had the approval of the Haganah. It was conceived as a response to Operation Agatha (a series of widespread raids, including one on the Jewish Agency, conducted by the British authorities) and was the deadliest directed at the British during the Mandate era. It was characterized as one of the "most lethal terrorist incidents of the twentieth century." In 1947, the British government announced it would withdraw from Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.
On 15 May 1947, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations resolved that the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine be created "to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine." In the Report of the Committee dated 3 September 1947 to the General Assembly, the majority of the Committee in Chapter VI proposed a plan to replace the British Mandate with "an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem... the last to be under an International Trusteeship System." On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union. The plan attached to the resolution was essentially that proposed by the majority of the Committee in the report of 3 September. The Jewish Agency, which was the recognized representative of the Jewish community, accepted the plan. The Arab League and Arab Higher Committee of Palestine rejected it, and indicated that they would reject any other plan of partition. On the following day, 1 December 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab gangs began attacking Jewish targets. The Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but in early April 1948 moved onto the offensive. The Arab Palestinian economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled.
On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." The only reference in the text of the Declaration to the borders of the new state is the use of the term Eretz-Israel ("Land of Israel"). The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War; contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan joined the war. The apparent purpose of the invasion was to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state at inception, and some Arab leaders talked about driving the Jews into the sea. According to Benny Morris, Jews felt that the invading Arab armies aimed to slaughter the Jews. The Arab league stated that the invasion was to restore law and order and to prevent further bloodshed.
After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled by or fled from advancing Israeli forces during the conflict—what would become known in Arabic as the Nakba ("catastrophe").
Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on 11 May 1949. Both Israel and Jordan were genuinely interested in a peace agreement but the British acted as a brake on the Jordanian effort in order to avoid damaging British interests in Egypt. In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. The Kibbutzim, or collective farming communities, played a pivotal role in establishing the new state.
Immigration to Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s was aided by the Israeli Immigration Department and the non-government sponsored Mossad LeAliyah Bet ("Institution for Illegal Immigration"). Both groups facilitated regular immigration logistics like arranging transportation, but the latter also engaged in clandestine operations in countries, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the lives of Jews were believed to be in danger and exit from those places was difficult. Mossad LeAliyah Bet was disbanded in 1953. The immigration was in accordance with the One Million Plan. The immigrants came for differing reasons. Some believed in a Zionist ideology or did it for the promise of a better life in Israel, while others moved to escape persecution or were expelled.
An influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab and Muslim countries to Israel during the first three years increased the number of Jews from 700,000 to 1,400,000. By 1958, the population of Israel rose to two million. Between 1948 and 1970, approximately 1,150,000 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Some new immigrants arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 people were living in these tent cities. Jews of European background were often treated more favorably than Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries—housing units reserved for the latter were often re-designated for the former, with the result that Jews newly arrived from Arab lands generally ended up staying in transit camps for longer. Tensions that developed between the two groups over such discrimination persist to the present day. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the austerity period. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.
During the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, nearly always against civilians, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, leading to several Israeli counter-raids. In 1956, Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized. The continued blockade of the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, together with the growing amount of Fedayeen attacks against Israel's southern population, and recent Arab grave and threatening statements, prompted Israel to attack Egypt. Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France and overran the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United Nations in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea via the Straits of Tiran and the Canal. The war, known as the Suez Crisis, resulted in significant reduction of Israeli border infiltration. In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust. Eichmann remains the only person executed in Israel by conviction in an Israeli civilian court.
Since 1964, Arab countries, concerned over Israeli plans to divert waters of the Jordan River into the coastal plain, had been trying to divert the headwaters to deprive Israel of water resources, provoking tensions between Israel on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other. Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, and called for its destruction. By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between Israeli and Arab forces. In May 1967, Egypt massed its army near the border with Israel, expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and blocked Israel's access to the Red Sea. Other Arab states mobilized their forces. Israel reiterated that these actions were a casus belli and, on 5 June, launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt. Jordan, Syria and Iraq responded and attacked Israel. In a Six-Day War, Israel defeated Jordan and captured the West Bank, defeated Egypt and captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and defeated Syria and captured the Golan Heights. Jerusalem's boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem, and the 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories.
Following the 1967 war and the "three nos" resolution of the Arab League, during the 1967–1970 War of Attrition Israel faced attacks from the Egyptians in the Sinai, and from Palestinian groups targeting Israelis in the occupied territories, in Israel proper, and around the world. Most important among the various Palestinian and Arab groups was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964, which initially committed itself to "armed struggle as the only way to liberate the homeland". In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers of the massacre, a bombing and a raid on the PLO headquarters in Lebanon.
On 6 October 1973, as Jews were observing Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, that opened the Yom Kippur War. The war ended on 25 October with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but having suffered over 2,500 soldiers killed in a war which collectively took 10–35,000 lives in about 20 days. An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for failures before and during the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign. In July 1976 an airliner was hijacked during its flight from Israel to France by Palestinian guerrillas and landed at Entebbe, Uganda. Israeli commandos carried out an operation in which 102 out of 106 Israeli hostages were successfully rescued.
The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin's Likud party took control from the Labor Party. Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state. In the two years that followed, Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty (1979). In return, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On 11 March 1978, a PLO guerilla raid from Lebanon led to the Coastal Road massacre. Israel responded by launching an invasion of southern Lebanon to destroy the PLO bases south of the Litani River. Most PLO fighters withdrew, but Israel was able to secure southern Lebanon until a UN force and the Lebanese army could take over. The PLO soon resumed its policy of attacks against Israel. In the next few years, the PLO infiltrated the south and kept up a sporadic shelling across the border. Israel carried out numerous retaliatory attacks by air and on the ground.
Meanwhile, Begin's government provided incentives for Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank, increasing friction with the Palestinians in that area. The Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, passed in 1980, was believed by some to reaffirm Israel's 1967 annexation of Jerusalem by government decree, and reignited international controversy over the status of the city. No Israeli legislation has defined the territory of Israel and no act specifically included East Jerusalem therein. The position of the majority of UN member states is reflected in numerous resolutions declaring that actions taken by Israel to settle its citizens in the West Bank, and impose its laws and administration on East Jerusalem, are illegal and have no validity. In 1981 Israel annexed the Golan Heights, although annexation was not recognized internationally. Israel's population diversity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s. Several waves of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel since the 1980s, while between 1990 and 1994, immigration from the post-Soviet states increased Israel's population by twelve percent.
On 7 June 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's sole nuclear reactor under construction just outside Baghdad, in order to impede Iraq's nuclear weapons program. Following a series of PLO attacks in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon that year to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles into northern Israel. In the first six days of fighting, the Israelis destroyed the military forces of the PLO in Lebanon and decisively defeated the Syrians. An Israeli government inquiry—the Kahan Commission—would later hold Begin, Sharon and several Israeli generals as indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In 1985, Israel responded to a Palestinian terrorist attack in Cyprus by bombing the PLO headquarters in Tunisia. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000, from where Israeli forces engaged in conflict with Hezbollah. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, broke out in 1987, with waves of uncoordinated demonstrations and violence occurring in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Over the following six years, the Intifada became more organised and included economic and cultural measures aimed at disrupting the Israeli occupation. More than a thousand people were killed in the violence. During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Scud missile attacks against Israel. Despite public outrage, Israel heeded American calls to refrain from hitting back and did not participate in that war.
In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party called for compromise with Israel's neighbors. The following year, Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas for the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO also recognized Israel's right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism. In 1994, the Israel–Jordan peace treaty was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions. Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks. In November 1995, while leaving a peace rally, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.
Under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of the 1990s, Israel withdrew from Hebron, and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority. Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The proposed state included the entirety of the Gaza Strip and over 90% of the West Bank with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Each side blamed the other for the failure of the talks. After a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began. Some commentators contend that the uprising was pre-planned by Arafat due to the collapse of peace talks. Sharon became prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, ending the Intifada. By this time 1,100 Israelis had been killed, mostly in suicide bombings. The Palestinian fatalities, from 2000 to 2008, reached 4,791 killed by Israeli security forces, 44 killed by Israeli civilians, and 609 killed by Palestinians.
In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel's northern border communities and a cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the month-long Second Lebanon War. On 6 September 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria. At the end of 2008, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The 2008–09 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. Despite neither the rocket launchings nor Israeli retaliatory strikes having completely stopped, the fragile ceasefire remained in order. In what Israel described as a response to more than a hundred Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities, Israel began an operation in Gaza on 14 November 2012, lasting eight days. Israel started another operation in Gaza following an escalation of rocket attacks by Hamas in July 2014.
Israel is located in the Levant area of the Fertile Crescent region. The country is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest. It lies between latitudes 29° and 34° N, and longitudes 34° and 36° E.
The sovereign territory of Israel (according to the demarcation lines of the 1949 Armistice Agreements and excluding all territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War) is approximately 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 sq mi) in area, of which two percent is water. However Israel is so narrow that the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean is double the land area of the country. The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi), and the total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and partially Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi).
Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the inland fertile Jezreel Valley, mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and toward the Golan in the north. The Israeli coastal plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to most of the nation's population. East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometer (4,039 mi) Great Rift Valley. The Jordan River runs along the Jordan Rift Valley, from Mount Hermon through the Hulah Valley and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea. Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques. The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev, which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi). A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean Basin states that Israel has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin.
The Jordan Rift Valley is the result of tectonic movements within the Dead Sea Transform (DSF) fault system. The DSF forms the transform boundary between the African Plate to the west and the Arabian Plate to the east. The Golan Heights and all of Jordan are part of the Arabian Plate, while the Galilee, West Bank, Coastal Plain, and Negev along with the Sinai Peninsula are on the African Plate. This tectonic disposition leads to a relatively high seismic activity in the region. The entire Jordan Valley segment is thought to have ruptured repeatedly, for instance during the last two major earthquakes along this structure in 749 and 1033. The deficit in slip that has built up since the 1033 event is sufficient to cause an earthquake of Mw~7.4.
The most catastrophic known earthquakes occurred in 31 BCE, 363, 749, and 1033 CE, that is every ca. 400 years on average. Destructive earthquakes leading to serious loss of life strike about every 80 years. While stringent construction regulations are currently in place and recently built structures are earthquake-safe, as of 2007 the majority of the buildings in Israel were older than these regulations and many public buildings as well as 50,000 residential buildings did not meet the new standards and were "expected to collapse" if exposed to a strong quake. Given the fragile political situation of the Middle East region and the presence there of major holy sites, a quake reaching magnitude 7 on the Richter scale could have dire consequences for world peace.
Temperatures in Israel vary widely, especially during the winter. Coastal areas, such as those of Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and long, hot summers. The area of Beersheba and the Northern Negev have a semi-arid climate with hot summers, cool winters, and fewer rainy days than the Mediterranean climate. The Southern Negev and the Arava areas have a desert climate with very hot, dry summers, and mild winters with few days of rain. The highest temperature in the continent of Asia (54.0 °C or 129.2 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern Jordan River valley.
At the other extreme, mountainous regions can be windy and cold, and areas at elevation of 750 meters or more (same elevation as Jerusalem) will usually receive at least one snowfall each year. From May to September, rain in Israel is rare. With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation. Israelis also take advantage of the considerable sunlight available for solar energy, making Israel the leading nation in solar energy use per capita (practically every house uses solar panels for water heating).
Four different phytogeographic regions exist in Israel, due to the country's location between the temperate and tropical zones, bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the desert in the east. For this reason, the flora and fauna of Israel are extremely diverse. There are 2,867 known species of plants found in Israel. Of these, at least 253 species are introduced and nonnative. There are 380 Israeli nature reserves.
In 2017, Israel's population was an estimated 8,680,600 people, of whom 6,484,000 (74.7%) were recorded by the civil government as Jews. 1,808,000 Arabs comprised 20.8% of the population, while non-Arab Christians and people who have no religion listed in the civil registry made up 4.5%. Over the last decade, large numbers of migrant workers from Romania, Thailand, China, Africa, and South America have settled in Israel. Exact figures are unknown, as many of them are living in the country illegally, but estimates run in the region of 203,000. By June 2012, approximately 60,000 African migrants had entered Israel. About 92% of Israelis live in urban areas.
Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country's Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry the right to Israeli citizenship. Retention of Israel's population since 1948 is about even or greater, when compared to other countries with mass immigration. Jewish emigration from Israel (called yerida in Hebrew), primarily to the United States and Canada, is described by demographers as modest, but is often cited by Israeli government ministries as a major threat to Israel's future.
Three quarters of the population are Jews from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds. Approximately 77% of Israeli Jews are born in Israel, 16% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 7% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab world). Jews from Europe and the former Soviet Union and their descendants born in Israel, including Ashkenazi Jews, constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis. Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants, including both Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, form most of the rest of the Jewish population. Jewish intermarriage rates run at over 35% and recent studies suggest that the percentage of Israelis descended from both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews increases by 0.5 percent every year, with over 25% of school children now originating from both communities. Around 4% of Israelis (300,000), ethnically defined as "others", are Russian descendants of Jewish origin or family who are not Jewish according to rabbinical law, but were eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
The total number of Israeli settlers beyond the Green Line is over 600,000 (≈10% of the Jewish Israeli population). In 2016, 399,300 Israelis lived in West Bank settlements, including those that predated the establishment of the State of Israel and which were re-established after the Six-Day War, in cities such as Hebron and Gush Etzion bloc. In addition to the West Bank settlements, there were more than 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, and 20,000 in the Golan Heights. Approximately 7,800 Israelis lived in settlements in the Gaza Strip, known as Gush Katif, until they were evacuated by the government as part of its 2005 disengagement plan.
There are four major metropolitan areas: Gush Dan (Tel Aviv metropolitan area; population 3,854,000), Jerusalem metropolitan area (population 1,253,900), Haifa metropolitan area (population 924,400), and Beersheba metropolitan area (population 377,100).
Israel's largest municipality, in population and area, is Jerusalem with 882,652 residents in an area of 125 square kilometres (48 sq mi). Israeli government statistics on Jerusalem include the population and area of East Jerusalem, which is widely recognized as part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation. Tel Aviv and Haifa rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 438,818 and 279,591, respectively.
Israel has 15 cities with populations over 100,000. In all, there are 77 municipalities granted "city" status by the Ministry of Interior. Two more cities are planned: Kasif, a planned city to be built in the Negev, and Harish, originally a small town currently being built into a large city.