Israel is in the news pretty regularly, especially under the Trump administration that seems to be more pro-Israel than previous administrations and with all the corruption and bribery charges popping up in Tel Aviv. While people have a lot of political opinions about Israel, it’s pretty clear that many of those same people don’t actually know much about Israel itself. Now it’s time to change that. Here’s are nine things you should know about Israel. This list is meant to give you a brief insight into Israeli history and culture but isn’t going to argue for or against a two-state solution, about Bibi Netanyahu, or whether the embassy should be in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Rather, check out these nine facts about Israel and go out into the world with more information at your fingertips. Maybe you’ll even go to Israel yourself one day!
Everyone serves in the military
One of the things I found most interesting about Israeli when learning about the country was that every Israeli citizen who is Jewish, Druze, or Circassian, male and female, serves in the military at some point in their life. Arab-Israelis do not have to servce. Of course, like in the US there are ways to get out of conscription, whether for religious or health reasons, but otherwise these citizens serve for between two and three years. Gal Gadot, our modern Wonder Woman, was actually crowned Miss Israel at the age of 18 and then began her two year servie in the military before eventually becoming an actress. Gadot was a combat instructor in the Israel Defense Forces and credits her military background with teaching her respect and discipline and even landing her her first acting credit.
They have no formal written constitution
I scratched my head a bit when I learned this. How else you would run a country? Somehow Israel makes it work. Rather, when Israel was founded, they enacted Basic Laws that govern them like our Constitution governs us. When they proclaimed independence in 1948, they intended to write a constitution. As we know in the US, that can get tricky, especially when you have so many factions who want one thing or another. Essentially, it kept getting put off and has been put off to this very day. There are still groups trying to get a formal, written constitution for Israel, but the Basic Laws still reign. The Basic Laws can only be changed by a majority vote in the legislature. Some of the laws include freedom of occupation, the legality of the Israel Defense Forces, human dignity and liberty, and the role of the prime minister.
Israel has been under attack since their founding
Why is the protection and very existence of Israel so controversial? Why do so many group says it is pivotal to support Israel? Because they’ve been under attack almost the entire time they’ve been a nation and some countries, and groups, say Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel was founded and declared independence on May 14, 1948. Literally the next day, armies from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attacked and launched the Arab-Palestine War. There’s hasn’t been much peace since, though not for lack of trying. Whenever you wonder why military service is required or so highly lauded, think about how Israel has been under attack since day 2 of their existence.
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They probably have nuclear weapons
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is an absolutely fascinating topic. We know that the US is the only country to ever detonate a nuclear weapon, two of them, over Japan in an effort to end World War II once and for all. Since then, everyone has pretty much agreed that detonating nuclear weapons is the last thing we want or need. That hasn’t stopped many countries from obtaining or building a nuclear weapon for protection. That’s a whole different conversation to have. What you should know is that it is believed that Israel has had nuclear weapons since 1967. Israel has never confirmed or denied this, but the US says it’s likely and they even know where the weapons are being manufactured. Because it is so under wraps, it is unclear just how many weapons Israel possesses, though its estimated to be between 100 and 400.
There isn’t a single Starbucks in Israel
Culture time. Israelis love their coffee, but you won’t find a Starbucks anywhere in Israel. Rather, Israelis prefer their domestic cafes and coffee shops. Starbucks opened six stores in Tel Aviv in 2001. They all closed by 2003. There were intentions to open a store in Jerusalem as well that never came to fruition. It was rumored that their closing was for political reasons. So if you ever travel to Israel, don’t expect a Starbucks on every corner.
Israelis are highly educated
Higher education levels vary around the world, but in Israel, education is highly valued. It is estimated that around half of all Israelis between the age of 25 and 64 have a tertiary education, such as a university degree. Education is viewed as the key to social mobilityand growth by Israelis. Though military conscription is, like I explained earlier, mandatory, many students postpone their service for a tertiary education and participate in a program in which the military pays for their schooling in exchange for longer service.
There are two official languages
The United States famously doesn’t have an official language, though English is the dominant tongue. Israel, however, has two official languages: Arabic and Hebrew. Hebrew is the dominant language. Originally, based on the law that governs language, the three languages that every government ordinance and such had to be in were English, Arabic, and Hebrew, but that rule was lated amended to repeal the English requirement. Hence, Hebrew and Arabic remain as the two official languages of Israel.
Israelis also drive on the right side of the road
This is one thing Israel had in common with the US as opposed to Britain or former British colonies. If you read a lot of British literature or watch movies set in London, you’ve probably realize that the British drive on the left of the road. Though Israel has a British backstory, they drive on the right side of the road. Most of the driving laws in Israel are pretty similar to laws in the United States. If you can drive here, you’d probably have no trouble driving there.
The legislature is known as the Knesset