Israel (Hebrew: יִשְרָאֵל, Yisra’el; Arabic: إسرائيل, Isrā’īl) officially the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are also adjacent. With a population of about 78 million, the majority of whom are Jews, Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. It is also home to Arabs Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups.
The modern state of Israel has its roots in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), a concept central to Judaism for over 3000 years. After World War I, the League of Nations approved the British Mandate of Palestine with the intent of creating a “national home for the Jewish people.” In 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. On May 14, 1948 the state of Israel declared independence in accordance with the UN decision and this was followed by a war with the surrounding Arab states, which refused to accept the plan. The Israelis were subsequently victorious in a series of wars confirming their independence and expanding the borders of the Jewish state beyond those in the UN Partition Plan. Since then, Israel has been in conflict with many of the neighboring Arab countries, resulting in several major wars and decades of violence that continue to this day. Since its foundation, Israel’s boundaries and even the State’s very right to exist have been subject to dispute, especially among its Arab neighbors. However, Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and efforts are being made to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians.
Visiting Israel was an eye-opening experience. Not only can one see all of the major locations and sites mentioned in the Bible, but you can also see upfront much of the conflict areas broadcast to the world over CNN. Its an amazing country with lots to offer and I guarantee it will not be at all what you expect. Its an amazingly modern country with all of the amenities one would find in the U.S.A. (sans the warring neighbors of course!). However, much like other places in the Middle East, gun-carrying soldiers, bomb sniffing dogs, and metal detectors are ubiquitous – a stark reminder that the country is surrounded by threats in every direction.