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The State of Israel is a Middle Eastern country with a long shoreline with the Red Sea. Bordering countries include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Under Israel's control are the disputed Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The modern State of Israel was formed in the late 1940s, in the wake of World War II, but Israelis have a long history in the land. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah came about in the Iron Age, although its first nation was destroyed by the Neo-Assyrians in 720 BC, and Judah was occupied by the Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenist empires, existing only as autonomous Jewish provinces.

The founders of modern Israel viewed the country they were creating as a reincarnation of the Promised Land of Abraham and Moses, and the ancient kingdom of David and of Solomon. Although Jewish people have been on the land for more than 3,000 years, the Jewish diaspora was massive. For many, bringing them home has been a significant priority.

Over the years, many Jews had found their way back to Israel, and still others dreamed of being able to return one day. In the late 1800s, a nationalist movement began, with the goal of creating a home for the Jewish people in Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire. This became known as the Zionist movement.

Most of the immigrants prior to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 were Ashkenazi Jews, but the biggest wave of immigrants during the first decade of statehood were from the Arab controlled areas in the Middle East.

Not everyone was pleased with Israel's statehood, however. To the Palestinian Arabs, Israel's independence is known as the Catastrophe, the moment when their own dreams of statehood were superseded. Even among the Jews, there were anti-Zionists. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews viewed the founding of Israel as arrogance, and a preempting of God's plan. Worse, in their view, the new state was clearly secular in nature.

Slightly more than 75% of the Israeli people are Jewish, tracing their roots back several generations on local soil. Others are more recent immigrants from several countries. Several Jews came from Russia in 1882. Over the next couple of decades, others arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe, founding collective villages or socialist communes known as kibbutzim. In the early 1900s, about 40,000 Jews settled in the region. These were mostly Orthodox Jews, although they also included some socialist groups.

During World War I, Britain stated its intention of creating a national home for the Jewish people, and the Jewish Legion assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition led to the creation of a Jewish militia. In 1922, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate over Palestine which included the promise of a home for the Jewish people, as well as similar provisions for the Arab Palestinians.

The persecution of the Jewish people in Europe, centered around Nazi Germany, in the 1930s, brought an influx of additional Jews to the region. This led to an Arab revolt in 1936, in which British troops fought alongside Jewish militias. Although British put restrictions on additional Jewish immigration to the region in 1939, Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust were turned away from other countries, so a clandestine movement was created to bring them to the region.

Following World War II, Jewish militias fought against British restrictions on immigration and, in 1947, Britain announced its withdrawal. That year, the United Nations resolved to create an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and an international Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency agreed to the plan, but the Arab League rejected it.

In 1948, the State of Israel was created. Although there have been a series of peace agreements and talks, Israel has been involved in civil wars over the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as in other regions, and its boundaries have shrunken, and been expanded.

Arabs make up just over 20% of Israel's population, while non-Arab Christians and those who claim no religion comprise just over 4% of the population, and the majority of its people are ethnic Jews. By Israeli law, anyone with Jewish ancestry are given the right of Israeli citizenship.

Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel. Arab is spoken by Israel's Arab minority, with Hebrew taught in Arab schools. Many languages are in use in Israel, however. Although English is no longer an official language, most of the Israeli people are conversant in English. Russian, Amharic, and French are also common.

Although Israel is Holy Land to the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people, among others, nearly half its population is secular. Muslims make up just under 18% of the population, being Israel's largest religious minority, after Judaism.


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