Jews of Israel - Orientation

Identification. The state of Israel came into formal existence on 14 May 1948. The United States recognized the new state on the same day, and the Soviet Union followed on 18 May. On 15 May 1948 the new state was invaded by the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, along with smaller numbers of troops from other Arab countries. Hostilities continued until January 1949, when a cease-fire was negotiated. The boundaries determined by the cease-fire defined the state of Israel until the 1967 War (the "Six Day War"), when additional territories (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip) came under Israeli control. On 11 May 1949 Israel was admitted to the United Nations as a member state.

Location. Israel is located in southwestern Asia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, at approximate latitude 31°30′ N and longitude 35°00′ E. It is bounded on the north by Lebanon, on the northeast by Syria, on the east and southeast by Jordan (the Dead Sea and the Gulf of ʿAqaba), on the southwest by Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula), and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea. Pre-1967 Israel had an area of approximately 20,700 square kilometers (about the size of the state of New Jersey). The territories captured after the 1967 War total about 7,500 square kilometers, including East Jerusalem which, along with the Golan Heights, Israel has formally annexed. Geographically, Israel is divided into four regions: the coastal plain, the central highlands, the Jordan Rift Valley, and the Negev Desert. The highest point in Israel is at Mount Meron (1,208 meters), in the Galilee (the central highlands) near the city of Safad. The lowest point is at the Dead Sea (in the Jordan Rift Valley) which, at 399 meters below sea level, is the lowest point in the world. Israel, located between a subtropical arid zone to its south and a subtropical wet zone to its north, has a Mediterranean climate with short, cool, and rainy winters and long, hot, and dry summers. About 70 percent of the rainfall occurs between November and March, but it is unevenly distributed, diminishing sharply to the south. During January and February, precipitation may take the form of snow at the higher elevations (including Jerusalem). About a third of the country (areas receiving more than 30 centimeters of rainfall a year—the coastal plain, the Jezreel Valley, and the Galilee) is cultivable.

Demography. At the end of 1987, the total population of Israel was 4,389,600, of whom 82 percent (3,601,200) were Jews. (About 27 percent of the world's Jewish population lives in Israel.) The Jewish population in the late 1980s grew at the rate of about 1.4 percent (compared to about 3 percent for the non-Jewish population). With a median age of about 27.6 (1986), the Jewish population is relatively young, but not so compared to Muslims (whose median age in the same year was 16.8). The Jewish population is skewed in age toward the very young and the very old; a relatively small percentage is in the 35-50 age group. This skewing is because of the effects of large-scale immigration in forming the Jewish population of Israel. Between 1948 and 1960, immigration accounted for almost 70 percent of the annual average population-growth rate. Many of these immigrants were older, and those who were younger were often single people who deferred marriage and child rearing until after their settlement.

Linguistic Affiliation. Hebrew is the major official language of Israel and the predominant language of Israel's Jews. Arabic is spoken by Israel's Arab minority, most of whom are bilingual in Hebrew as well. Arabic is also an official language and may be used in courts and the parliament (Knesset). The successful revival of Hebrew as a modern, spoken, and "living" language, a major thrust of the Zionist cultural program, was one of its major accomplishments. Nevertheless, because so many in the population are immigrants, many other languages are spoken by Jews, especially older people or recent immigrants. These include Arabic (or dialects of Judeo-Arabic), Yiddish, Ladino, Persian, English, Russian, French, Spanish, and other European, African (e.g., Amharic) and Asian (e.g., Malayalam, of Cochin, India) languages.

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