Israel is at once a modern and historic place, a center of religious moorings and sensibilities with many holding various secular predilections. Israel boasts a robust economy, a dynamic and potent cultural life, a bustling place for adventures, a leading force for advanced science and technology, an unparalleled treasure trove of religious and cultural history and archaeological sites and artifacts, a vital tourism magnet, and a place of wide-ranging landscapes and utter beauty.
About 92% of Israel's inhabitants live in urban centers; some of which are located on known ancient sites. Many modern towns and cities, blending the old and the new, are built on sites known since antiquity, even bearing their original Biblical and post-Biblical names. Among these are Jerusalem, the capital; Be'er Sheva, the largest population center in the south; Safed, Tiberias and Akko. Others such as Rehovot, Hadera, Petah Tikva and Rishon Lezion began as agricultural villages in the pre-state era and gradually evolved into major population centers. The country’s other main cities are Tel Aviv, home to Israel’s industrial, commercial, financial and cultural life; and Haifa, a major Mediterranean port and the industrial center of northern Israel.
The remainder of Israel's population live in rural areas, in villages and two unique cooperative frameworks - the kibbutz and moshav, which were developed in the country in the early part of the twentieth century.
The kibbutz (Hebrew word for “communal settlement”) is a self-contained social and economic unit in which decisions are made by its members, and property and means of production are communally owned. Today 1.7 percent of the population lives in 266 kibbutzim with memberships ranging from 40 to more than 1,000. Members are assigned work in different branches of the kibbutz economy: traditionally the backbone of Israel's agriculture, kibbutzim are now increasingly engaged in industry, tourism and services.
The moshav is a rural settlement in which each family owns and maintains its own farm and household. In the past, cooperation extended to purchasing and marketing; today moshav farmers have chosen to be more economically independent. At a moshav, people make their own decisions, cook in their own kitchens and eat at their own tables. There are a number of villages grouped around a central town in a moshav. The town collects and gives out the produce and furnishes the needed equipment and materials. The town is the administrative center and has a secondary school, a concert hall, a theater and so on.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), founded in 1948, ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having had to defend the country in five major wars. Currently, the IDF's security objectives are to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State of Israel, deter all enemies and curb all forms of terrorism which threaten daily life. To ensure its success, the IDF's doctrine at the strategic level is defensive, while its tactics are offensive. Given the country's lack of territorial depth, the IDF must take initiative when deemed necessary and, if attacked, to quickly transfer the battleground to the enemy's land. Though it has always been outnumbered by its enemies, the IDF maintains a qualitative advantage by deploying advanced weapons systems, many of which are developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs. The IDF's main resource, however, is the high caliber of its soldiers.
Army service is compulsory in Israel. Most men and single women are inducted into the IDF at age 18. Men must serve for three years and women for two years. Following completion of compulsory service, men and women are assigned to reserve duty up to one month annually, (until the age of 51 for men, and 24 for women) and may be called for active duty in times of crisis. In 2006, the Defense Ministry outlined a plan to reduce mandatory service for male soldiers to 28 months. Further reductions will bring the final service term for men down to two years by 2010.
Going through the demands and rigors of army life on a totally egalitarian basis forges a common identity that totally transcends social and economic groupings. With a handful of exceptions, every senior officer has worked up through the ranks. Israel does not produce officers through academies, rather commanders rise through the ranks solely on the basis of their leadership and command capabilities. This system allows youth to grow and maximize their potential. At the same time, bonds of friendship are forged during basic training or active duty and are maintained through reserve duty and provide important social cohesion.
The IDF is responsive to the cultural and social needs of its soldiers, providing recreational and educational activities, as well as personal support services. Recruits with incomplete educational backgrounds are given opportunities to upgrade their level of education, and career officers are encouraged to study at the IDF's expense during their service. The integration of new immigrant soldiers is facilitated through special Hebrew language instruction and other programs. Active in nation-building enterprises since its inception, the IDF also provides remedial and supplementary education to civilian populations and contributes to the absorption of newcomers among the population at large.
In essence, the society and army are one, as a broad spectrum of the population serves periodically over many years, with those in and out of uniform virtually interchangeable. Since soldiers often hold ranks not necessarily corresponding with their status in civilian life, the IDF has become a highly effective equalizer in the society and contributes greatly to integrating individuals from all walks of life. The IDF also helps new immigrants during their period of military service to acclimate to Israeli life in a framework wherein each person is undergoing the same process.
Over the years, the IDF has assumed a variety of national-social functions for the society at large; providing special services for new immigrants; upgrading educational levels of adults who were denied basic education in their countries of origin; supplying teachers to development towns; assisting in disadvantaged areas and responding to emergency situations in the civilian sector.