LAND, PEOPLE AND DEVELOPMENT
Israel’s uniqueness lies in the diversity and multiplicity of its land and its people. Located at the junction of Asia, Africa and Europe, the country makes up for its small size (21,500 square kilometers) with a wide range of physical conditions. Fertile plains and arid zones, seashore and desert, mountain ranges and the lowest point on earth all are in close proximity to one another. The variety of Israel’s geographical regions is complemented by the multiplicity of its population. Native-born Israelis and immigrants from every corner of the earth enrich the nation with their varied cultural backgrounds and traditions.
Israel is at a crossroads of climatic and botanic regions. The main topographic formation is the Rift Valley, running north-south along the east of the country for over 400 kilometers. Physical conditions along the valley change rapidly from the alpine environment of the Hermon slopes on the northern border, to the subtropical environment of the shores of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), to the Dead Sea the lowest point on earth and the Aravah, a desert plain extending south to Eilat at the northern tip of the Red Sea.
Topographical variations in the northern half of the country divide it into three regions: the limestone mountains of the north (Galilee) and center (Judean hills); the alluvial valley of the upper Jordan River and the valleys of Jezreel and Beit She’an; and the Mediterranean coastal plain, with sandstone ridges, sand dune areas, and fertile alluvial soils.
The southern half of the country can be classified as desert with precipitation below 250 mm yearly, reaching as low as 20 mm per annum at the southern tip of the country. The Negev desert contains unique features such as erosive craters (makhteshim) which cut deeply into the earth’s crust, displaying a broad range of colors and rocks, and magmatic metamorphic rock which gives the Eilat area its own unique landscape.
Israel’s location at the meeting point of four phytogeographic and zoogeographic zones the Mediterranean, the Irano-Turasian (steppe), the Saharo-Sindic and the Sudanese gives the country a rich variety of plant and animal life. Over 2,600 species of plant life (150 indigenous to Israel), 454 bird, 128 mammal, 8 amphibian and 106 reptile species are known to exist or to have existed in Israel.
Israel is the northernmost limit for the presence of plants such as the papyrus reed and the southernmost limit for others like the bright red coral peony. Mountain gazelles roam over the hills; foxes, jungle cats and other mammals live in wooded regions; Nubian ibex inhabit the desert. Hundreds of thousands of birds migrate twice yearly along the length of the country, providing unique opportunities for birdwatching.
Israel’s water bodies are also varied. To the west lies the Mediterranean Sea; to the east, the salt-laden Dead Sea with its unique attributes; in the north is the freshwater Lake Kinneret; in the south, the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea.
Israel’s greatest resource is its people, and the most outstanding characteristic of the population is its rate of growth. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel’s population has increased eight- fold mainly as a result of large-scale immigration. The trend of decreased immigration which characterized recent decades was dramatically reversed at the end of 1989 as a massive wave of immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet-bloc. Between 1990 and 1993, some 530,000 immigrants entered the country one-tenth of the present population. Immigration figures have begun a downward trend in 1994.
Israel’s 5.3 million citizens come from all corners of the globe. Some 90% of the population are city dwellers. The three largest cities are Jerusalem (557,000 inhabitants), Tel Aviv (357,000) and Haifa (250,000). Nearly 6% of Israelis live in unique rural cooperatives the kibbutz and the moshav whose contribution to the country has exceeded their share of the population. The remaining 3.8% live in villages.
From a sparsely-populated country in its early years, Israel has been transformed into a densely-populated country in recent years.
While average population density is about 250 per square kilometer, 92% of the population live in an area which covers only 40% of the state’s land. In the area north of Beersheba, Israel is now one of the world’s most densely-populated countries, with 590 people per square kilometer. In the Tel Aviv region, population density is already in excess of 6,700 per square kilometer.
Scarcity of water, limited land resources, and lack of natural resources have led Israel to base its economy on a highly-qualified work force and technological advances, generated by a network of academic and research institutions. Today, some 90,000 students are enrolled in seven universities and a dozen other institutions of higher learning throughout the country.
Education is recognized as the key to Israel’s future development.
It seeks to impart a high level of knowledge, with an emphasis on the scientific and technological skills which are essential for the country’s continued development. Indeed, the percentage of Israel’s population which is engaged in scientific and technological research is among the highest in the world, and relative to the size of its labor force, the country is a world leader in the number of published authors in such fields as the natural sciences, engineering, agriculture and medicine.
Despite its small population, Israel occupies a respected position on the international scene in various areas of industrial and agricultural production. Much of the country’s success is attributed to its development of products based on Israel’s own scientific creativity and technological innovation. The educated, dynamic and ideologically-motivated farming community has spurred Israeli agriculture to impressive achievements in an extremely short period of time, while in industry, the highest growth rates are in the high-tech sectors, which are capital intensive and require sophisticated production techniques as well as considerable investment in research and development.
Attracted by its geographical diversity, archeological and religious sites, unlimited sunshine and modern resort facilities, nearly 2 million tourists visited Israel in 1993, a 10% increase over the previous year. Tourism, with its enormous potential, promises to be a major factor in the achievement of economic independence for Israel, especially in the wake of the current Middle East peace process.
Israel’s experience in overcoming difficult climatic conditions, scarcity of water and limited arable land has become a model for developing countries around the world. In a world that is become more and more interdependent, Israel is committed to taking an active part in the global dialogue for peace and sustainable development, a dialogue which will open the way to new paths of international cooperation for the benefit of people everywhere, today and in the years to come.