Israel is a Middle Eastern country located in south-west Asia on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest.
The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi). The total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi).
Israel controls 23% of the land illegally, because it was gained in war. Supporters point to the fact that Israel was not the aggressor in all its wars to demonstrate that any land occupied is being held for security purposes. UN Resolution 242 was intentionally worded to convey that Israel should return land - but not all land - captured in 1967, in recognition of Israel's legitimate security need.
Immediately prior to World War II, what is now Israel was part of the British Mandate Territory of Palestine. The British Mandate incorporated two main areas: Transjordan (now the Kingdom of Jordan), and the area today known as Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Relatively few Jews inhabited the Mandate territories, but they were the majority in the areas designated to them in the partition plan of the United Nations. The work of Zionists like David Ben Gurion resulted in a growing demand for a Jewish homeland in the region.
In 1917, Arthur James Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Walter, the 2nd Baron Rothschild, in which he promised the Jewish people would return to their homeland in Palestine, as though such a thing was Britain's to give. That letter contained the key phrase "a national home for the Jewish people" which was regarded by many as a binding statement. All they had to do was wait, it seemed. Unfortunately, the British had also, as though such a thing was theirs to give, promised Palestine to the Arabs, during a Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting that same year. So the British Mandate of Palestine, already racked from within by Arab-Jewish conflict, refused to give the land to anyone, and even instituted a White Paper curtailing Jewish immigration.
Then came the Second World War. During this time, Jews had been fighting for Britain in Italy and France (witness the Jewish Brigade) and against the British Empire in Palestine, through militant Jewish organizations like the Irgun and Stern Gang. One of the most notable attacks by these groups in Palestine that forced the hands of the British was the King David Hotel bombing, at the time the headquarters of the British military forces in the Mandate region.
The aftermath of the war in Europe left large numbers of stateless Jews, many of whom emigrated to Palestine. The terrible treatment of Jews under Nazi Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations during the war, and especially the horrors of the Holocaust, led to growing Zionist movements among the Jews of Europe and Palestine, and increasing sympathy for the Zionist cause from the international community.
After the Second World War, the battered British declared that they would step out of Palestine, and both Jews and Arabs seized the chance. The Haganah and Jewish Agency began mobilizing, ready to take control at a moment's notice. The Arabs mobilized faster, drumming up support from Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, as well as John Bagot Glubb's Arab Legion. The Mufti is a notable character because he consorted with Hitler during the war, helping found the SS-Handschar Brigade, composed mainly of Balkan Muslims, after local (Bosnian) clerics forbade collaboration with the Nazi puppet Ustasha regime. However, all but a minority of Palestinians ignored Husseini's calls. Most Palestinians and Arabs served the allies, providing essential material support to the war effort against Nazi Germany. It should be pointed out that militant Zionists, such as the Stern Gang, also collaborated with fascists during WW2 and received material support from them against the British. The Stern Gang went as far as requesting an alliance with Nazi Germany against British Rule, proposing that Jews be freed from Nazi-controlled Europe and allowing them to live in Israel in exchange for their help in fighting Britain. However, all but a minority of Jews ignored the Stern Gang. Most Jews served the allies, with some examples including the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group of over 5000 Jews who fought under the British Army.
In the meantime, the UN agreed to conduct a partition vote. The Jews accepted the agreement, but it was rejected by the Arabs and conflict broke out. Israel ended up in a dominant position after the voluntary self-removal of wealthier Palestinians, a collapse in Palestinian leadership, and Israeli forceful eviction of many Palestinians who hadn't voluntarily left from their territory. The exact number of Arabs who left is the subject of debate.
The Transjordan area (approximately 80% of the British Mandate Territory) was given to the Arabs and became the Kingdom of Jordan, under the the Hashemite royal family. The remaining 20% of the land was divided between the Jews and the Arabs based on population densities with the intention that the city of Jerusalem would remain an international city under UN control.
 Arab-Israeli Conflicts
Though the original UN partition of the area into a Jewish and Palestinian state would have disrupted relatively few people, when the neighboring states attacked Israel in 1948, a massive dislocation of Arabs in Israel and Jews in Arab countries followed. The refusal of the Arab states to absorb the Arab refugees has kept the issue contentious ever since. Claiming that Israel was a European colony, many Arab states (once they achieved independence) tried to destroy the state of Israel. In the first war from 1947-49 (Arab-Israeli War), the Arab forces greatly outnumbered the Israeli forces, but the Israelis, perhaps due to better leadership and troop morale, were triumphant. Subsequent wars (the Suez War (1956), the Six Days War (1967), the War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War (1973)) all followed the same pattern. After 1967 in particular, Israel took large portions of the West Bank of Jordan from the state of Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, controlling their territory and population without annexing them outright.
For decades, there has been ongoing strife with organizations, both militant and non-violent, dedicated to improving life for the Palestinian people, but the outspoken organizations take it many steps further in explicitly calling for the complete destruction of all of Israel (including pre-1967 borders) without compromise.
Hamas' status as a terrorist organization is disputed, though it's not unreasonable to call it one because it targets civilians. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the USA, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, Japan, and Jordan. The secular PLO however, which was considered the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people for the majority of the struggle, is not currently considered a terrorist organization by any nation. Historically, only the United States and Israel have ever designated the PLO as a terrorist organization.. Supporters of Israel considered the PLO as a terrorist organization because of its terrorism, such as the 1970 Avivim school bus massacre, airplane hijackings, Munich Olympics Massacre, 1974 Ma'alot Massacre, 1975 Savoy Hotel hostage crisis and the 1978 Coastal Road massacre. Since the PLO denounced violence and terrorism, the United States and Israel view it as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
 Human rights
Israel is the only state in the Middle East to have any kind of gay rights. Despite general Arab animosity toward Israel, most Arabic gay rights organizations meet in Israel. However, as with many countries, there are still significant anti-gay members of the Israeli parliament. As is the case with almost every other aspect of Israeli life and policy, the question of gay rights is harnessed as part of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Israel's positive stance on homosexuality is often used by state's supporters as evidence that it is an inherently progressive country. There is no gay marriage in Israel as it does not have civil marriages: all marriages are religious. However, Israel recognizes gay marriages abroad. The Israeli military allows gay soldiers.
Some have pointed out how gay rights has been used to "pink wash" what are regarded by some as Israel's crimes against the Palestinians. After the original Freedom Flotilla response, when Israel raided a humanitarian convoy in international waters to divert it to the port of Ashdod for inspection before allowing the aid to proceed, a second flotilla, made up mostly of Americans, set out to break the controversial blockade of Gaza. An anonymous gay man named Mark posted a YouTube video, claiming to be a neutral observer who was shocked by widespread homophobia in the Freedom Flotilla. However, it turned out that "Mark," the allegedly gay man who posted the video, was actually an Israeli actor, and the video tweeted by Guy Seemann, an employee of the prime minister of Israel. Seeman denied that he had posted the video in any official capacity.
When it comes to other minorities, Israel's record is somewhat more complicated. Defenders of Israel point out that while Israel is infringing on the rights and freedoms of Arabs by building settlements on occupied Arab territory in violation of the Geneva Conventions, Arabs living within Israel's borders are granted more freedoms than most Arabs in Arabic countries. Arab Israelis have the right to vote, to organize, and to conduct their own religious services. Israel has come under fire for banning a few Arabic political parties, but the Supreme Court quickly overruled the bans. The justification given for banning the parties was that their alleged support of terrorism and their refusal to recognize the existence of the state of Israel. There's also the occasional call for the genocide of the Palestinians issued by hardcore rabbis. A majority of Arabs living in Israel support Zionist parties, and a few Muslim Arabs do serve in the IDF. Israel has a large population of Africans, which includes African Jews (mostly from Ethiopia), as well as refugees from war-torn nations like Sudan and Eritrea. Public and legal opinion on these refugees is split, as many entered Israel illegally through border with Egypt after a long and often dangerous journey. With the establishment of South Sudan, the Israeli government is urging Sudanese refugeee to return home, and is providing them funds to do so. Those that stay are helped by organizations such as B'nai Darfur (Sons of Darfur), which provides them with economic and social aid while raising awareness about the Darfur Genocide.
The centrality of religion to Israel's identity leads to particular tensions for women. Israeli women enjoy all of the rights and social mobility that one would expect in a liberal democracy. They are also subject to obligations that women in other states are free or barred from, namely conscription. However, the strong social and political influence of certain strains of Orthodox Judaism means that women in Israel are sometimes faced with official and unofficial sexism justified by religious dogma in places where fundamentalist Orthodox communities are predominant, such as Meir Shearim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, where some buses and public utilities serving these areas are segregated. Women's rights in Israel are higher than those in most, if not all, Arab countries, where women may not be allowed to drive or vote. Women's rights activists, including Arabs, have come out in defense of Israel on feminist grounds.
The US government does not observe the 249 UN resolutions against Israel (although it is worth noting that these are General Assembly resolutions and thus not ultimately binding) as it continues to give Israel more aid than it does to Sub-Saharan Africa and South America combined. This is perhaps due to a significant number of Muslim countries that openly despise Israel using the UN for propaganda purposes (never criticizing Palestinian terror, in an indirect admission to a heavily anti-Israel UN bias), or perhaps instead or additionally due to AIPAC, one of the largest and most influential political action committees in the US. These resolutions are non-binding General Assembly resolutions; only resolutions from the Security Council are binding. Additionally, much of the funding given to Israel is through loan guarantees to buy goods from American companies. To date Israel has not defaulted on its loans or asked for forgiveness of its debt. As such, this aid has resulted in a net gain for the USA and its companies. Win-win.
 Israeli Nukes and Iran
Of all the nations in the world stockpiling nuclear weapons, only India, Pakistan, and Israel have declined to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel's close relationship with the US shields it from the possibility of American pressure to sign that treaty.
The question of Israeli nukes is inseparable from the fact that it is surrounded by states that have historically adapted an aggressive stance towards its very existence, and needs to ensure its survival. In recent years, alleged threats on the part of Iran to destroy Israel have complicated the issue. However, there is some controversy over Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's 2005 speech in which he was quoted as saying "the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement." Every scholar of Persian who commented on the alleged speech, as well as Mossad's own notes on the speech, do not translate Ahmadinijad's words as threatening to "wipe Israel off the map." The expression "wipe off the map" does not exist in Persian; Ahmadinijad was quoting from Ayatollah Khomeini, referring to a call for regime change in Israel as opposed to the obliteration of the state (although many Israeli Jews would probably see those two outcomes as meaning the same thing — the loss of their explicitly Jewish state). Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the Iranian government's own staff translators that the Persian doesn't translate to "wipe off the map"
On the other hand, Ahmedinejad has unabashedly said such deligitimizing things about Israel and Jewish history that many consider fear of Iran to be wholly justified. Ahmadinedjad's government has on different occasions hosted Holocaust denial conferences with speakers including anti-Semites and white supremacists such as David Duke.
The political parties that make up the Israeli government meet in the Knesset building in Jerusalem. The Israeli government is based on proportional representation, which basically means any idiot off the street can start a political party and run for the Knesset. In fact, many have. Still more have actually been elected. With so many political parties it's bloody well impossible to get any sort of actual majority, so most Israeli governments have been coalitions, leading to intense power struggles within parties, palace revolts, and split-offs. This effectively proves the "two Jews, three opinions" theory.
Israel has a whopping array of political parties. Almost all are split-offs from larger parties (in the best Jewish tradition) and many of them don't get along with each other. The six major ("major" here means "possessing more than four seats") Israeli parties are:
- Kadima (Tzipi Livni, centrist, liberal)
- Likud (Binyamin Netanyahu centre-right/conservative)
- Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman, nationalist)
- Labour (Eitan Cabel, centre-left/social democracy)
- Shas (Eli Yishai, social conservatism)
- Independence (Ehud Barak, centrism)
Keep in mind, these are not actual parties; these are amalgamations of smaller parties, who are represented as themselves in the Knesset. Thus, a candidate from Ahdut HaAvoda (merged with Labour) could run on the Labour ticket but still be Ahdut in the Knesset. Crazy, no?
There are also a truckload of others, many of them two parties amalgamated due to lack of funds/actual leadership. These include:
- United Torah Judaism, (Ya'akov Litzman, more social conservatism)
- United Arab List/Ta'al (Ibrahim Sarsur, Israeli-Arab interests/anti-Zionism)
- National Union (Ya'akov Katz, more nationalism)
- Hadash (Mohammed Barakeh, socialist)
There are 21 Israeli political parties not represented in the Knesset. They appear in various city governments. There are currently 81 parties represented within the Knesset.
As for Arab parties, there are several. The largest is the United Arab List, with four three seats. The other United Arab List, which is called "United Arab List (1976)," does an effective job of confusing people when they are looking for the actual UAL campaign headquarters. The most visible, however, is Balad, led by Jamal Zahalka. Mr. Zahalka earns special mention because he earned his BA, MA, and PhD at Hebrew University, is the leader of an Israeli political party (on three Knesset committees), and complains vocally that he is a victim of Israeli apartheid.
There are currently five parties without Knesset seats:
- the Popular Arab Bloc
- the Women's Party
- Tafnit, and
- Yamin Israel
These parties have all been disbanded as of this writing. There is one party that has been banned from the Knesset, the militantly anti-Arab Kach party. No one misses it.
Benjamin Binyamin Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel, with Shimon Peres as President.
The Israeli government admits that its security forces tortured prisoners between 1988 and 1992. However, more Palestinians are tortured by Hamas than by Israel, as Hamas continues to torture and occasionally execute detainees without trial. Independent Palestinian sources report over 147 cases of torture by Hamas in 2011 alone. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli prisoner of war held illegally by Hamas for nearly five years, is not believed to have been tortured during his imprisonment.
 See also
- ↑ IV Geneva Conventions, Article 47: "Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory."
- ↑ http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000636
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on King David Hotel bombing.
- ↑ http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Palestine-Remembered/Story420.html
- ↑ http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Palestine-Remembered/Story799.html
- ↑ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/brigade.html
- ↑ Schechtman, Joseph (1952). The Arab Refugee Problem. New York: Philosophical Library. pp. 4.
- ↑ http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article49
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Hamas#International designation of Hamas.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on PLO #Terrorist activities.
- ↑ 
- ↑ http://electronicintifada.net/blog/benjamin-doherty/israeli-actor-anti-gaza-flotilla-pinkwashing-video-identified
- ↑ http://electronicintifada.net/node/10117
- ↑ http://electronicintifada.net/comment/486
- ↑ 
- ↑ http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3184534,00.html
- ↑ http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4312531,00.html
- ↑ http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/majority-of-asylum-seekers-in-israel-are-seriously-abused-in-sinai-report-reveals-1.345220
- ↑ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Immigration/SudaneseRefugees.html
- ↑ "Israeli woman refuses ultra-Orthodox dictate to move to back of bus", Haaretz 12 December 2011
- ↑ 
- ↑ 
- ↑ http://www.timesofisrael.com/boshra-khalaila-telling-israel-like-it-is-in-arabic/
- ↑ Israel condemns Iranian threats, BBC
- ↑ New York Times' text of the speech
- ↑ http://www.juancole.com/2007/06/ahmadinejad-i-am-not-anti-semitic.html
- ↑ http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1510.htm
- ↑ http://web.archive.org/web/20110716100837/http://www.president.ir/en/?ArtID=10114
- ↑ http://www.davidduke.com/?p=1532
- ↑ "Israel admits torture," BBC, 9 February 2000
- ↑ http://www.hrw.org/node/110517
- ↑ http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4137024,00.html