The State of Israel is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and it is a Jewish state. Israel was the birthplace of Judaism in the 17th century BCE and Christianity at the beginning of the 1st century CE. The name Israel translates from Hebrew as "he who strives with God" (since Jacob wrestled God, Genesis 32:24-32). The population of Israel is predominantly Jewish with a large non-Jewish minority, mostly comprising Muslim, Christian, and Druze Arabs. The territory Israel controls, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, borders the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (listed clockwise from north to south). Israel shares the coastlines of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba (also known as Gulf of Eilat), and the Dead Sea.
For over 3,000 years, Jews have considered the Land of Israel to be their homeland, both as a Holy Land and as a Promised Land. As a result, the Land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations and Judaism's most important sites, including the remains of the Second Temple. The importance of the Land of Israel is not limited to Judaism, it is also the place where Christianity was born, and contains many locations of great spiritual significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Starting around 1200 BCE, a series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire resulted in widescale expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel (about 25% of the Jewish population). After crushing Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135, Emperor Hadrian renamed Provincia Judaea to Provincia Syria Palaestina, a Greek name derived from Philistine.
Over the next centuries under Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Persian rule, Jewish presence in the province dwindled as the center of Jewish life shifted to the diaspora. However, the Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in Palestine during this period. The province became an important center of Christian pilgrimage, with a growing Christian population.
The Muslim Caliphate conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) in 638 CE and attracted Arab settlers. After a brief period of prosperity under the Umayyad Caliphate, the territory was subject to waves of invasions and changes of control, including rule by the Seljuks, Fatimids, and European Crusaders, before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1918. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated. In the early 19th century, about 10,000 Jews lived in the area that is today's Israel alongside several hundred thousand Arabs. Towards the end of the century the number of Jews increased, though they were still a small minority.
Following centuries of Diaspora, the nineteenth century saw the rise of Zionism, the Jewish national movement, a desire to see the creation of a Jewish political entity in Palestine, and significant immigration. The first waves of Jewish immigration to the then Turkish province started in the 1800s as Jews fled Russian persecution. Later, the rise of Nazism in 1933 and the subsequent attempted extermination of the Jewish people in the Shoah, or Holocaust, in which about six million Jews were murdered, led to immigration from other parts of Europe. After World War I, the British endorsed a Jewish homeland in Palestine by issuing the Balfour Declaration. In 1919 the League of Nations transferred control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire to the United Kingdom as a mandate. A declaration passed by the League of Nations in 1922 effectively divided the mandated territory into two parts. The eastern portion, called Transjordan, became the Arab state of Jordan in 1946. The other portion, comprising the territory west of the Jordan River, was administered as "Palestine" under provisions that called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. The Jewish population in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940.
In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. This was notable, as Ben-Gurion showed a willingness to essentially accept about 1/3 of the land that would ultimately be won by Israel in the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War. As a result, in 1939, the British gave in to Arab pressure because of support needed for World War II, abandoned the idea of a Jewish national homeland, and abandoned partition and negotiations in favour of the unilaterally-imposed White Paper of 1939, which capped Jewish immigration, and subjected it to review under further agreement with the Arabs. Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government. The policy was viewed as a significant defeat for the Jewish side, as it placed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration, while placing no practical restrictions on Arab immigration from surrounding Arab states. Due to these limitations, it was predicted that the proposed government would be dominated by the Arab side. As a result of impending world war, the plan was never fully implemented, but the White Paper of 1939 policy was implemented well into the end of WW2, and enforced even when refugees who survived Holocaust were fleeing from Nazi persecution.
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. Promising to annihilate the new Jewish state (though their actual motivation was more complex), the armies of six Arab nations attacked the fledgling state.
Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank). Jerusalem was divided into a western part annexed by Israel and an eastern part annexed by Jordan. Jordan's annexation of those territories in 1950 was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan, while Israel's annexation of part of Jerusalem became a matter of contention. The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt and came under its control, but Egypt did not annex it.
After the war, 14-25% (depending on the estimate) of the Arab population remained in Israel; the rest fled or were expelled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day; see Palestinian refugee and Palestinian Exodus for a discussion of the circumstances. Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within one year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries, came to Israel, along with Jews from Iran and Europe. Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, fed by further waves of Jewish immigration, most notably recently following the collapse of the USSR.
In 1957, at the UN, 17 maritime powers declared that Israel had a right to transit the Strait of Tiran. Moreover, the Egyptian blockade prior to the 1956 Suez War violated the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, which was adopted by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea on April 27, 1958.
On May 23rd, 1967, Egypt again cut off the Straits of Tiran (Israel's main shipping route to Asia and other major places of trade) to Israeli shipping, and also blockaded the port of Eilat. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai, and in their place, Egyptian tanks and troops were concentrated on the border with Israel. In accordance with international law, Israel considered the blockade of its port a casus belli, and launched an attack on Egypt, especially the Egyptian Air Force. Hostilities came to include Jordan (after Jordan reluctantly chose to dismiss Israeli appeals for neutrality and undertook shelling of Tel Aviv in adherence to its defense treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi Air Force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Accords, and in 1981 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The status of the West Bank and Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinians with some Israeli settlers, is also undecided and has been the focus of several unsuccessful peace conferences.
The status of the Golan Heights is currently the subject of a territorial dispute between Israel and Syria who are still in a technical state of war with each other. The Heights, originally part of the French Mandate of Syria but administered by Britain until 1923, were officially annexed by Israel in 1981, although United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 deemed Israel's annexation null and void and without international legal effect.
In the years since 1948, Israel and the United Nations have often suffered an adversarial relationship. The UN General Assembly passed the non-binding Resolution 194 in December 1948, granting a conditional "right of return" to Palestinian refugees - however, the resolution only refers to "refugees", arguably implying that it was intended for both Arab and Jewish refugee populations. UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967), calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (Six-Day war); and UN Security Council Resolution 446 (March 1979), declared settlements on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights to be illegal. While most of the 65 Security Council and General Assembly resolutions passed against Israeli actions (and the 41 Security Council resolutions vetoed by the United States) have had near universal support in the UN (often with the United States and Israel alone among the dissenting), supporters of Israel claim that the resolutions often misconstrue International Law, that their supporters selectively apply them, and that the assemblies themselves are biased.
Israel is the only state that is barred from joining any of the five geographical groupings that would make it eligible for Security Council membership according to accepted practice. It has indefinite temporary membership of the "Western Europe and Others" group but agreed to not seek UNSC membership on that basis. More than half of the UN's emergency meetings have been to respond to the regional crisis.