Day 14 - Understanding

Just the Facts!

Most attempts to interpret Israel and the Palestinians start with history and narrative.  Traveling in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Occupied Territories), one is struck by size, distances, population, topography, and other features.  For people who have never been here, what images do they have of this land and the people who call this home?   To start, it may surprise some to learn that Israel is slightly larger than the State of New Jersey.   It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the West; Egypt to the South; Jordan to the East; and Lebanon and Syria to the North.  Within this small country there are several microclimates and dramatically different topographical areas—the Negev desert in the south; a low coastal plain; central mountains; and the Jordan Rift Valley.  Driving from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, about a one-hour drive, one can experience a temperature increase of more than 10 degrees. 

Within these outside boundaries exist the Palestinian Territories consisting of two distinct areas: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  78% of the land is Israel, and 22% is the Palestinian Territories.  However, within the Palestinian Territories there are approximately a half million Israelis now living in "settlements" officially authorized by the State of Israel.  These and other Israeli-controlled areas of the Palestinian Territories such as the "Jordan Valley Control Area" have the effect of further reducing Palestinian areas to 54.5% of these territories.   Only 13% of the West Bank is completely under the Palestinian Authority (Area A).

Israel faces a variety of environmental challenges, including limited arable land and limited natural freshwater resources; desertification; air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions; groundwater pollution from industrial and domestic waste, chemical fertilizers, and pesticide.  Water rights are a critical issue in the peace process, and today Israel controls 85% of water resources

Israel has a population of 7,590,758.  In the 1990s approximately one million Russians immigrated to Israel, adding to the cultural political mix.  Of Israel's citizens (not including the population of the Palestinian Territories) the major ethnic/religious mix today is Jews 76.2%; Arabs (Christian and Muslim) 19.5%; other 4.3%.

From the beaches on the Mediterranean, to farmland in the Galilee, to bustling cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the variety of land and people who live on this land is a fascinating mix and a good point to begin to understand more.

Both the U.S. State Department and the CIA publish helpful country profiles and fact sheets.  Here are links to more information about Israel: