Contemporary Israel 101
The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the world’s most enduring and explosive conflicts. Both sides argue that they have a historic right to the land of Israel, including the West Bank (an area west of the Jordan River), the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, specifically. The Palestinians have “risen up” against the Israeli occupation on two occasions, the first Intifada (uprising) in 1987 and Intifada II in September of 2000. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. A diversity of opinion exists among Israeli Jews regarding the proper response to these uprisings and the best ways to pursue peace and security for Israel, ranging from the endorsement of a Palestinian state to the belief that all of the occupied territories should remain part of Israel.
While the majority of Israelis are secular Jews, a vocal, powerful minority of Orthodox Jews has a disproportionate influence on religious policy for the nation (in return for their support on issues of foreign and economic policy) because of their decisive role in coalition government. The tension between Orthodox practice and secular reality results in frequent flare-ups in areas like marriage, divorce, conversion, and education. For example, many secular Israelis resent funding a parallel religious school system that prevents religious and secular children from mixing.
Israel has been a member of the U.N. since 1949 and maintains relations with a majority of states around the world. Israel also maintains relations with Jewish communities worldwide. In both cases, i.e. international and Diaspora relations, Israel’s strongest ally is the United States. Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab and/or Muslim countries are always in flux. As political instability increases between Israel and the Palestinians, tensions rise between Israel and her neighbors as well, as the Palestinians count these Arab nations, which have long histories of anti-Israel activities, among their chief supporters.
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