Israel is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline
of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It lies at the junction of three continents: Europe,
Asia and Africa.
Long and narrow in shape, the country is about 290 miles (470 km.)
in length and 85 miles (135 km.) in width at its widest point. Although small in size, Israel encompasses the varied topographical
features of an entire continent, ranging from forested highlands and fertile green valleys to mountainous deserts and from
the coastal plain to the semitropical Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Approximately half of the
country's land area is semi-arid.
Israel's climate is characterized by much sunshine,
with a rainy season from November to April. Total annual precipitation ranges from 20-30 inches (50-70 cm) in the north to
less than an inch (2.5 cm) in the far south. Regional climatic conditions vary considerably: hot, humid summers and mild,
wet winters on the coastal plain; dry, warm summers and moderately cold winters, with rain and occasional light snow, in the
hill regions; hot, dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and semi-arid conditions, with warm to hot days
and cool nights, in the south.
Flora and Fauna
The rich variety of Israel's plant and animal life reflects
its geographical location as well as its varied topography and
climate. Over 500 kinds of birds, some 200 mammal and reptile
species, and 2,600 plant types (150 of which are endemic to Israel) are found within its borders. Over 150 nature reserves
and 65 national parks, encompassing nearly 400 square miles (almost 1,000 sq. km.) have been established throughout the country.
The scarcity of water in the region has generated intense efforts to
maximize use of the available supply and to seek new resources. In the 1960s, Israel's freshwater sources were joined in an
integrated grid whose main artery, the National Water Carrier, brings water from the north and center to the semi-arid south.
Ongoing projects for utilizing new sources include cloud seeding, recycling of sewage water and the desalination of seawater.
Israel's agricultural successes are the result of a long struggle
against harsh, adverse conditions and of making maximum use of scarce water and arable land. Today, agriculture represents
some 2.5% of GNP and 3% of exports. Israel produces 93% of its own food requirements, supplemented by imports of grain, oil
seeds, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar, which are more than offset by the wide range of agricultural products for export.
Since 1948, Israel's population has grown five-fold,
to 6.5 million people. Its inhabitants are of varied ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, religions, cultures and traditions. Of
immigrants to Israel, approximately 50% hailed from Europe while many others came as refugees from North African, Middle Eastern,
and Asian countries. Today, Jews comprise 77.2% of the country's population, while the country's non-Jewish citizens, mostly
Arabs, number about 22.8%.
Jerusalem, Israel's capital (population 670,000) has stood at the
center of the Jewish people's national and spiritual life since King David made it the capital of his kingdom some 3000 years
ago. Today it is a flourishing, vibrant metropolis, the seat of government, and Israel's largest city.
Tel Aviv (population
359,400) which was founded in 1909 as the first Jewish city in modem times, is today the center of the country's industrial,
commercial, financial and cultural life.
Be'er Sheva (population 178,000), named in the Bible as an encampment of the patriarchs, is
today the largest urban center in the south. It provides administrative, economic, health, educational and cultural services
for the entire southern region.
System of Government
Israel is a free, vibrant parliamentary. Members of the
Knesset, Israel's legislative authority, are elected every four years in universal nationwide elections. Voter turnout is
high with up to 70% of Jewish and Arab Israeli voters casting their ballots. The Government (cabinet of ministers) is charged
with administering internal and foreign affairs. It is headed by a prime minister and is collectively responsible to the Knesset.
Education and Science
School attendance is mandatory from age five through
age eighteen and is provided free of charge. Almost all three- and four-year-olds attend some kind of preschool program.
institutions of higher education include universities which offer a wide range of degrees in the sciences and humanities and
serve as research institutions of worldwide repute. The country's high level of success in scientific research and development
and its applications show that human resources compensate for the country's lack of natural resources.
The official languages of the country are Hebrew and Arabic, but in
the country's streets many other languages can be heard. Hebrew, the language of the Bible, long restricted to liturgy and
literature, was revived a century ago, accompanying the renewal of Jewish life in the Land.