Israel is the state formed in the aftermath of World War II for the Jews of the world, located in the Middle East, on the south-eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, Egypt on the south-west, and the Palestinian territories to the east and south-west.
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).
The international community, even including Israeli allies, recognizes neither the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza nor the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Supporters claim that any land occupied is only being held for security purposes, and point to the fact that Israel was not the aggressor in all of its wars (a surprisingly common opinion amongst participants in wars). The Arab League declared after the war that despite its defeat, no member would recognize the State of Israel or come to any peace agreement.
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 state Ustasha regime.)
In the meantime, the UN agreed to conduct a partition vote. The Jews accepted the agreement as a tactical maneuver (as Ben Gurion's biographer Michael Ben Zohar notes, the omission of borders in Israel's declaration of independence was not a mistake) to gain more territory which would later become reality as Israel gained 22% more land than allocated in the partition plan . The partition plan was rejected by the Arabs on grounds that it was imposed against an indigenous population who was not consulted and made up more than 2/3's the population despite the fact it was only allocated 44% by the UN . 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 and the causes for their departure 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 Arab 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, prevailed. The Suez War (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the War of Attrition (1967 again) and the Yom Kippur War (1973) all followed the same pattern. After 1967 in particular, Israel took large portions of the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, controlling their territory and population without annexing them outright. Currently, Israel is in something of a Cold War-esque conflict with Iran, with such proxies as Hamas in Gaza (from 2006 to 2012) and Hezbollah in Lebanon arrayed against Tel Aviv since the presidency of the Dinner Jacket. Things have calmed down, for now, with Hassan Rouhani replacing Ahmadinejad in mid-2013.
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. The secular PLO however, which was considered the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people for the majority of the situation, 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.) The PLO did engage in 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, but then denounced violence, and the US and Israel adjusted their positions.
 Human rights
Israel is the only state in the Middle East to have any kind of gay rights (and functioning democracy, and rules against beating women). Despite general Arab animosity toward Israel, most Arabic gay rights organizations meet in Israel. However, as with many countries, there are still significant homophobic 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 its 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, and 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. Seemann 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 Arab countries. Arab Israelis have the right to vote, to organize, and to conduct their own religious services. This difference between treatment of people within one's border and another country's people under a military occupation should not be lost on people who claim Israel respects the rights of Palestinians, as Jimmy Carter notes persistently in his 2006 book on solving the Israel-Palestine conflict titled "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid". Israel has come under fire for banning a few Arab political parties, but the Supreme Court quickly overruled the bans. The justification given for banning the parties was 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 communities are predominant, such as Meir Shearim in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, where some buses and public utilities serving these areas are segregated. Nonetheless, 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, and 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.
 Israeli nukes and Iran
Of all UN Member states only India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Sudan have declined to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (India, Pakistan, and Israel all have nuclear arsenals, but South Sudan is a new country which happens to be really busy and hasn't yet found the time to sign it.) Israel's close relationship with the US shields it from the possibility of American pressure to sign that treaty.
Israel currently has a policy of "nuclear opacity[wp]," where it refuses to confirm or deny the existence of its arsenal despite common knowledge of its existence. Israeli leaders have repeatedly pledged not to be the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons to the Middle East, which makes you wonder what "introduce" actually means to a native Hebrew speaker. Israel's nuclear program had French assistance and was opposed by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, although the Nixon administration agreed to turn a blind eye. According to Avner Cohen, probably the most famous historian of Israel's nuclear program, Israel was able to assemble two nuclear weapons just in time for the 1967 Six Day War. It is generally accepted that Israel had nuclear weapons by the time Yom Kippur War of 1973, and that Egypt and Syria knew this when they chose to launch a surprise attack against Israel. The fact that the Israeli government has never threatened to use nuclear weapons, even during two wars including one in which it was caught unprepared, does not stop hipsters on the internet from calling Israel a "nuclear rogue state" that poses a threat to world security. Critics might argue that Israel and in particular its supporters have breached codes of the UN Charter by threatening to use nukes in a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" of Iranian facilities. This same history also might make you wonder what the point of Israel's arsenal is. This example, along with the Falklands War[wp] and Kargil War[wp], are often cited by critics of Nuclear Peace Theory[wp].
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. Critics of this argument would point that in wars excluding the 1948, Israel more often than has emerged as a less than peaceful partner (even in 1973 when it rebuffed Sadat's offer to withdraw from occupied territories) according to declassified Israeli documents, as military historian Zeev Maoz notes in "Defending the Holy Land". Maoz notes for the Six-Day War in 1967, "Israeli misconduct during border conflict with Syria was to a large extent responsible for the process of escalation that evolved into the May-June 1967 crisis. . . . The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] command was not too worried about an Egyptian surpriseattack. . . . Most observers seem to agree that Nasser did not want a war." 
In recent years, alleged threats on the part of Iran to destroy Israel have complicated the issue. However, there is some controversy over the Dinner Jacket's 2005 speech in which he was quoted as saying "the occupying regime must be wiped off the map." 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. 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.  This headache of a man finally left public view in 2013, when he was term-limited from running again; nobody's sad that he's gone now, not even Ali Khamenei, who himself is very much anti-Israel.
The Israeli parliament is called the Knesset; it sits in Jerusalem, is unicameral and has 120 members. The Israeli electoral system is based on a party-list proportional representation with the entire country forming a single electoral district. The threshold for an electoral list to enter the Knesset is two percent, although there are efforts within the Israeli Knesset and the government to raise it to three or four percent.
The Israeli political system is a parliamentary one in which the support of a majority of Members of Knesset (MKs) is needed in order to form a government. After the Knesset is elected the President of Israel gives the task of forming a government to the head of the parliamentary faction whom he sees as most likely to get the support of a majority of MKs. If the person chosen by the President succeeds in this task he becomes Prime Minister. The term of a Prime Minister is set in law as four years, although in reality no government has managed to survive an entire term due to intergovernmental conflicts. Presidents in turn are elected for a seven year term by the Knesset; other than their aforementioned role in the formation of government and their authority to grant pardons to prisoners, their function is largely ceremonial.
Under current Israeli law, in order to register a party for the parliamentary elections one must receive the support of 100 sponsors, although a new parliamentary list can bypass this requirement by running in the name of a registered party which no longer actually operates. The proportional allocation of seats and the low threshold for entering the Knesset allows many political parties to gain parliamentary representation. With so many political parties it's bloody well impossible for any one of them to get a majority by itself, so most Israeli governments have been coalitions, leading to intense power struggles between and 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 largest Israeli parties are:
- Likud (Benjamin Netanyahu, conservative/bordering on reactionary)
- Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman, nationalist. In the current Knesset Yisrael Beiteinu caucuses with the Likud in a joint parliamentary faction, similar to the way independent Senators in the US caucus with another party despite not being formal members.)
- Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid, centrist, liberal)
- Labour (Shelly Yehimovitch, centre-left/social democracy)
- The Jewish Home (Naftali Bennet, religious party, nationalist, far-right)
- Shas (Eli Yishai, a party representing Haredi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent.)
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, a party representing Haredi Jews of Ashkenazi descent.)
- United Arab List/Ta'al (Ibrahim Sarsur, Israeli-Arab interests/anti-Zionism.)
- Kadima (Shaul Mofaz, centrist, was the largest party in 17th and 18th Knesset but in the current 19th one it has only two seats, making it the smallest party)
- Hadash (Mohammed Barakeh, socialist)
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. 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. Netanyahu's Likud merged with Yisrael Beiteinu, the nationalists, before the most recent election. However, they needed even more parties to join them to form a coalition after Yesh Atid did better than expected. The Likud Yisrael Beiteinu merger invited Yesh Atid and two more parties (the liberal centrist Ha'Tnua and the religious nationalist The Jewish Home) to form an extremely broad coalition of conservatives, centrists, nationalists, secularists, and orthodox Jews. They tried to include Shas (basically the Jewish Constitution Party), but disagreed with the ruling coalition on conscription (see below), so the social conservatives joined their polar opposites, the Labor party, in opposition.
In Israel, because the population is so small and the nature of some of its not-so-friendly neighbors, all Jews (and several non-Jews) are required to join the military. When Israel was founded, there was (and still is) a large ultra-orthodox population who devote their lives to studying the Torah. In fact, they are very large welfare recipients and a lot of them are not employed. To appease these fairly politically powerful groups, Israeli conscription law gives what some may consider to be actual "moochers" (as opposed to welfare recipients in the United States) an exemption from serving in the military. This is similar to conscientious objection, but they don't even have to work nonviolent but productive jobs. Therefore, most of the political parties want to end the exemption, but the Shas party is powerful and valuable in a coalition (which always happens), so this exemption is still in place. Some of these orthodox groups object to the existence of Israel as they believe, according to the Torah, that Israel is not supposed to exist until the Jewish Messiah appears.
Due to the fact that most of Israel's military engagements have been with Arab nations and terrorist organizations, Arab-Israelis are not drafted to the military. However, they can volunteer and some, especially Bedouins, have done so. The Israeli Druze[wp] community (a monotheistic ethnoreligious group) has a generally good relationship with the Israeli authorities, and therefore Druze men are also drafted to the military (women are exempted) unless they decide to devote their life to religious studies and service, in which case they are exempted. The same holds true for the Israeli Circassian[wp] community.
The Israeli government admits that its security forces tortured prisoners between 1988 and 1992, and human rights organisations have stated that torture has continued on a widespread institutionalised basis into the present.  
Although in large part outlawed by the Israel's High Court of Justice in 1999, their verdict left open an allowance for torture under certain circumstances which human rights organisation B'Tselem said "legitimated, if only by implication, the use of torture and ill-treatment" and left open "the slippery slope leading to an increase in torture and ill-treatment."
 See also
- Avner Cohen. 1998. Israel and the bomb. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231104838.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Khartoum Resolution.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on King David Hotel bombing.
- ↑ Bar-Zohar, Michael "Ben-Gurion: A Biography" (New York, 1978), p. 162
- ↑ Wm. Roger Louis, "The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism", (New York, 1984), p. 445
- ↑ 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 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/
- ↑ Avner Cohen. Israel and the bomb. Columbia University Press, New York, 1998.
- ↑ Maoz, Zeev "Defending the Holy Land: A critical analysis of Israel’s security and foreign policy" (Ann Arbor: 2006), pp. 36, 82-93 (1967).
- ↑ 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
- ↑ The State: Legislature: The Knesset
- ↑ The State: Elections
- ↑ The Electoral System in Israel
- ↑ http://www.timesofisrael.com/hatnua-demands-that-electoral-threshold-rise-be-gradual/
- ↑ Israeli Democracy-How does it work
- ↑ THE STATE: The Presidency
- ↑ The Israeli law regulating the formation of political parties
- ↑ Definition of "Mifleget Madaf" (shelf party)
- ↑ Likud, on the Knesset's website
- ↑ Yisrael Beiteinu, on the Knesset's website
- ↑ Likud Yisrael Beitenu, on the Knesset's website
- ↑ See the the respective elections results for the 17th and 18th Knesset
- ↑ Final official results of the Elections for the Nineteenth Knesset
- ↑ National Democratic Assembly (Balad), on the Knesset's website
- ↑ Jamal Zahalka, on the Knesset's website
- ↑ Kach, on the Knesset's website
- ↑ http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2013/03/18/Israel-Coalition-of-the-will-ing-to-be-in-power.html
- ↑ "Israel admits torture," BBC, 9 February 2000
- ↑ "ABSOLUTE PROHIBITION, The Torture and Ill-treatment of Palestinian Detainees" B'Tselem, May 2007
- ↑ "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories Annual Report 2012" Amnesty International, 2013
- ↑ "Torture and ill-treatment as perceived by Israel’s High Court of Justice" B'Tselem, 1 Jan 2011