small country in southwestern Asia

founded in 1948

Israel is a small country in southwestern Asia. It occupies a narrow strip of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel was founded in 1948 as a homeland for Jews from all parts of the world, and more than 4 out of 5 of its people are Jews. Even Jews who live elsewhere consider Israel their spiritual home. Almost all the non-Jews in Israel are Arabs. Jerusalem is Israel's capital and largest city.

Israel makes up most of the Biblical Holy Land, the place where the religious and national identity of the Jews developed. According to the Bible, Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, established a Semitic population in the Holy Land. Many scholars believe this happened sometime between 1800 and 1500 B.C.

Eventually this land fell to a series of conquerors, including -- in 63 B.C. -- the Romans. Following unsuccessful Jewish revolts against Roman rule in A.D. 66-70 and A.D. 132-135, the Romans forced most of the Jews to leave. The Romans then began to call this region by the word that became Palestine in English. Palestine was ruled by the Roman and then the Byzantine empires until the A.D. 600's, when Arabs conquered the region. From that time until the mid-1900's, the majority of people in Palestine were Arabs.

In the late 1800's, European Jews formed a movement called Zionism, which sought to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Jewish immigrants began arriving in Palestine in large numbers, and by the early 1900's friction had developed between the Jewish and Arab populations. In 1947, the United Nations (UN) proposed dividing the region into an Arab state and a Jewish state.

On May 14, 1948, the nation of Israel officially came into being. The surrounding Arab nations immediately attacked the new state, in the first of several Arab-Israeli wars. In 1967, at the end of one of the wars, Israeli troops occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank -- territories that are home to more than 1 million Palestinian Arabs. Israel's occupation of these territories further inflamed Arab-Israeli tensions. In 1994, Israeli troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and by 1996, they had withdrawn from most cities and towns of the West Bank. The withdrawals were part of 1993 and 1995 agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents Palestinian Arabs.

Israel has few natural resources and imports more goods than it exports. Still, it has achieved a relatively high standard of living. More than 90 percent of its people can read and write, and the level of unemployment is low. Jewish settlers have established major industries, drained swamps, and irrigated deserts.

Although it is a small country, Israel has a diverse terrain that includes mountains, deserts, seashores, and valleys. Israel has a pleasant climate, with hot, dry summers, and cool, mild winters.

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