Israel Children’s Encyclopedia

By | December 22, 2021

Cultivating the desert

Reconstituted after centuries and centuries in what the Bible calls the Promised Land, the State of Israel is linked to a very ancient tradition, but it is among the most modern and advanced in the world. Despite its small size, great environmental and political difficulties, a dense and continuously growing population, Israel has an enormous weight in the global economic and political balance.

Difficult territory

The territory of Israel is a strip between the Levant Sea (Mediterranean) and the Jordan and, at the southern end, the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea). The climate is Mediterranean, but the central-southern region (Negev) is desert.

The fertile plain along the sea has the best climate and is where cities and populations are concentrated. Inside, there are alignments of hills, which to the south slightly exceed 1,000 m; further inland, the Jordan Valley – with the Dead Sea – is a long depression (the deepest on Earth, −408 m).

The limits of the state are still uncertain: the United Nations has not accepted the enlargement that Israel achieved with the 1967 war, when it crossed the Jordan to the north (Golan Heights, annexed in 1981), and conquered the West Bank in the center and the Gaza Strip to the south. This (nearly 400 km 2, 1,330,000 Palestinians and 6,000 Israelis) is now under Palestinian administration; in the West Bank (6,200 km 2), partly administered by the Palestinians, but controlled by the Israeli army, the many Jewish settlements are home to around 200,000 people (Palestinians are 2.3 million). Here Israel is building a wall that should separate the Jewish areas from the Palestinian ones.

Little water, many residents

Israel’s great environmental problem is water, which is scarce and concentrated in the Jordan Valley and Golan. The availability of springs and wells has thus become a strategic problem: the layout of the Israeli settlements and the route of the wall have taken this into account carefully. The population is growing at a much higher rate than in Europe, both due to immigration (between 1999 and 2000 a million Jews immigrated from the former Soviet republics) and due to the very high birth rate, and is 80% composed of Jews; even considering the ‘Occupied Territories’, Jews are barely more numerous than Palestinians. For Israel 2015, please check

The Israelis, mainly dedicated to very advanced industrial and tertiary activities, almost all live in cities: the main ones are Jerusalem (over 800,000 residents), considered the capital by both Israel and the Palestinians (and a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims), Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa.

Agriculture is very advanced. Despite the difficult environmental conditions, thanks to the technical skills and capital they had at their disposal, the Israelis managed to make almost desert lands productive (citrus fruits, vegetables): large water catchment and irrigation works were necessary. The agriculture practiced by the Palestinians, on the other hand, is much poorer (olive tree, wheat).

Even if it has no raw materials, Israel has developed a high quality industry (mechanics, electronics, armaments, textiles, food), thanks to the great entrepreneurial skills of the Jews and their capital, which made it possible to industrialize the country in less than half century. The country imports more than it exports, but receives substantial funding from the Jewish communities of the rest of the world and the living conditions of the Jewish population are very advanced.

Israel Children's Encyclopedia