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Israel: A Brief Historical And Religious Overview

Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people. It is in this country that a significant part of the extensive history of the Israelites was enacted. Israel is recorded in the Bible as a specific place, chosen by God Himself, to be His own and who laid out the boundaries of Israel. Israel’s cultural, religious and national identity as well as the physical presences have developed throughout the centuries. Archeological studies in Israel reveals the historical connection between the Jewish people as set forth in the Bible, unearthing what remains of the cultural heritage of the Jewish people.

Geographically, Israel is located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is surrounded by Syria and Lebanon on the north, Jordan and the Palestine National Authority on the east and Egypt on the southern side. Despite the small size of Israel, it is composed of diverse terrain and has four climate zones. On the northern side of the country, it is the productive hill area of Galilee which rises to Mount Hermon and Golan to the northeast. On the coast the rich Plain of Sharon is found. The interior of Israel offers a variety of uplands and hills with several stony areas on the eastern side. The Dead Sea is situated along the eastern border of Israel. Kinneret, which is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, is an essential source of drinking water for the entire country.

The history of Israel is considered as a diverse one since it passed through different occupants throughout the years. During the ancient times, the ancestors might have included the Semites who stayed in the Canaan and the Sea Peoples. In 612 BC, the Assyrian empire was seized by the Babylonian rule. King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon took control of Judah in 586 BC. Cyrus the Great of Persia took control of Babylon in 583 BC. It was believed that the concluding Hebrew versions of the Torah and the Book of Kings were dated to this period. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region. During the 2nd century BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to eradicate Judaism in favor of the Hellenistic religion. This led to the Maccabean Revolt in 174-135 BC that was led by Judas Maccabeus. The Books of the Maccabees showcases the uprising and the end of the Greek rule. From 37 BC up to 6 AD, the Herodian Dynasty ruled over Judea. Herod the Great was responsible for constructing the biggest religious structure in the world. During the Roman Imperial rule, Judea was established as a Roman province in 6 AD. This was followed by prosperity but the society suffered from the heightened tensions between the Greco-Roman and the Judea populations. It was in 66 AD that the Jews of Judea revolted against Rome, stating the new state, according to the Bible, as Israel. In 390 AD, when the Roman Empire was divided, the region was under the Byzantine Empire.

Moving forward, Israel endured a lot of changes while in the control of others until it eventually became an independent country. The conclusion of the 1948 War of Independence resulted in the creation of the Jewish state that was slightly larger and in accordance to territorial dictates as laid out in the Bible.

The 1967 War or the Six-Day War involved the mobilization of Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian forces along the narrow borders of Israel in an attempt to invade and destroy the State of Israel. On the other hand, Israel carried out the ideal per-emptive strike on Egypt which left the Egyptian Air Force ablaze. After six days, Israel defeated the Arab armies and took control of the Sinai Desert, Golan Height and the West Bank.

Israel was able to take control of the 3000 year old Jewish city known as Old Jerusalem.

The most notable division in the society presently in Israel is between the Jews who comprise 75% of the population with the remaining 25% being non-Jews. Of this population, in terms of religion, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim while 4% are Christian Arabs and the remaining 2% are Druze or Muslim offshoot that is heretical based on mainstream Islam.

Historically, in the Jewish society, there were some deep divisions. The first was the cultural division between the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim and the Mizrahim. The Ashkenazim lived in Europe for almost 2000 years and are richer and more politically connected. The Sephardim and Mizrahim came from the Middle East, North Africa and Yemen. Nevertheless, as the years passed, the division has declined and intermarriages became common.

While the divisions on ethnicity weakened due to the increase of the native-born population, there remains an element of religious tensions between the Orthodox Jews and the secular. Even though the secular Jews are prevalent all over Israel, Orthodox Jews typically center in cities such as Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, irregardless of the minor religious differences within the Jewish population today, when it comes to the preservation of the Jewish state of Israel all Jews stand together in the defense of their country.

If you are planning a trip to Israel give due diligence to researching the current political climate of the region.

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