Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Israel(Cristina G.)

(one of the few countries in the world that truly likes US)
I must confess that I did not know anything about Israel till last week, when I first met an Israelian guy. I was so ashamed of seeing that he knows so many things about my country while the only terms that I could relate Israel to were Jerusalem, Bethleem and Tel-Aviv. Of course, I was also able to say that Israel is a country that always wins good positions in the Eurovision contest. But that looked pretty strange to me too, because I knew that Israel is an Aesian country, while Eurovision is an European competition. I was feeling so stupid after my first date with Itzik that the first thing that I did after arriving home(and I swear it was for the first time when I did that after a date) was to pick up a encyclopedia, trying to find more about a country with no shapes in my mind. After that, everytime we met again, I have also pricked up my ears at everything that he and his friends were talking about. In fact, I remember now that the thing that shocked me the most was that all his friends looked so different and had so different accents.
So, this is how I found out that Israel is the country where no one has a foreign accent because everyone has a foreign accent. Israel is a nation of immigrants, a small republic located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded on three sides by Arab countries: in north Lebanon, in the northeast Syria,in the east Jordan, and in the southwest Egypt. Over 82 per cent of the population is made up of Jews. The remainder 18 per cent consists of the Arabs who are mainly Muslims. Most of the people of Israel live in metropolitan areas and heavy concentration is found around the cities of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv-Yafo, and Haifa.
In previous centuries, Jewish communities lived mainly in ghettos, as they were not allowed to live among other communities by order of the governments in the countries where they lived. The first major ghetto was in Venice. However, after many hundreds of years of persecution and suffering, Jews were finally able to integrate themselves more into secular life in the 19th century due to countries becoming more tolerant, but despite this six million Jews across Europe were killed during the Holocaust (1939-1945), which virtually eradicated large Jewish populations in such countries as Poland. Nowadays, besides the 5 million Jews that live in Israel, there are approximately other 7 million Jews in the world, and around 300,000 living in the UK. Other countries with a large Jewish population include USA and Canada, France, Belgium, Holland, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Australia. All Jews fall into one of two categories, depending on their family origins; Ashkenazi Jews are of East European extraction, while Sephardic hail from Spain, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.The standard of living of the people in Israel is quite high, despite the fact that the country's defence spending remains one of the world's highest per capita and the growing influx of immigrants always manages to strain the availability of jobs and housing. Israel has a diversified, technologically advanced economy with substantial but decreasing government ownership and a strong high-tech sector. The major industrial sectors include high-technology electronic and biomedical equipment, metal products, processed foods, chemicals, and transport equipment. Israel possesses a substantial service sector and is one of the world's centers for diamond cutting and polishing. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel imports substantial quantities of grain but is largely self-sufficient in other agricultural products.
Israel’s strong commitment to economic development and its talented work force led to economic growth rates during the nation's first two decades that frequently exceeded 10% annually. The years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War were a lost decade economically, as growth stalled and inflation reached triple-digit levels. The successful economic stabilization plan implemented in 1985 and the subsequent introduction of market-oriented structural reforms reinvigorated the economy and paved the way for rapid growth in the 1990s. A wave of Jewish immigration beginning in 1989, predominantly from the countries of the former U.S.S.R., brought nearly a million new citizens to Israel. These new immigrants, many of them highly educated, now constitute some 16% of Israel’s 6 million inhabitants. This made me understand why Itzik’s mother has English origins, why Asaf has a Pakistanese father, why Boris has Cecen parents, while they are all Israelians.
The successful absorption of the new jewish people into Israeli society and its labor force forms a remarkable chapter in Israeli history. The skills brought by the new immigrants and their added demand as consumers gave the Israeli economy a strong upward push and in the 1990’s, they played a key role in the ongoing development of Israel’s high-tech sector. During the 1990s, progress in the Middle East peace process, beginning with the Madrid Conference of 1991, helped to reduce Israel’s economic isolation from its neighbors and opened up new markets to Israeli exporters farther afield. The peace process stimulated an unprecedented inflow of foreign investment in Israel, and provided a substantial boost to economic growth in the region over the last decade. Growth was an exceptional 6.2% in 2000, due in part to a number of one-time high tech acquisitions and investments. This exceptional year was followed by two years of negative growth of –0.9% and –1%, respectively, in 2001 and 2002. As a result of the security situation(the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict), the downturn in the high-tech sector and Nasdaq crisis, and the slowdown of the global economy-particularly the U.S. there has been a significant rise in unemployment and wage erosion. Despite that, in 2001, the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the country touched $108.32 billion and its per capita GDP of $17,020 was one of the highest in the world. Economic diversification, high investment, a skilled and educated workforce, and a commitment to research and development have contributed to this economic success of Israel. In 2004, rising business and consumer confidence - as well as higher demand for Israeli exports boosted GDP by 2.7%. Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The United States is Israel’s largest trading partner. In 2002, two-way trade totaled some $19.66 billion, and Israel had approximately a $5.88 billion trade surplus with the U.S. The principal U.S. exports to Israel include civilian aircraft parts, telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, civilian aircraft, electrical apparatus, and computer accessories. Israel’s tech market is very developed, and in spite of the pause in the industry’s growth, the high-tech sector is likely to be the major driver of the Israeli economy. Israel is the country where applications of high tech gadgets and devices, such as printers in banks that print out your statement on demand, were introduced years ahead of the United States and decades ahead of Europe. Almost half of Israel’s exports are high tech. Most leading players, including Intel, IBM, and Cisco have a presence in Israel, and it is worth noting that even during the downturn in the macroeconomic situation in Israel these large players as well as others did not withdraw from the Israeli market. Israel and USA signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in 1985 that progressively eliminated tariffs on most goods traded between the two countries over the following 10 years. An agricultural trade accord signed in November 1996 addressed the remaining goods not covered in the FTA but has not entirely erased barriers to trade in the agricultural sector. Israel also has trade and cooperation agreements in place with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and other countries.
Israel is also a major tourist destination. It is the only country in the world with northern European standards of living and southern European weather, one of the few places in the world where the sun sets into the Mediterranean Sea and the only place on Earth with white almond blossoms in January, with an Israeli spring, the most glorious time of year. Israel is also the country where you can find the Holy grave and where one is unlikely to be able to dig a cellar without hitting ancient archeological artifacts.You might also say that Israel is the only country in the world where people can read the Bible and understand it. Jews believe that there is only one God, and that the Bible, known as the Tanakh, consists only of the Old Testament. That makes Israel the country where, when people say "the modern later era", they are referring to the time of Jesus. The Jewish calendar is full of festivals and special days, either commemorating a major event in Jewish history or celebrating a certain time of year (such as Jewish New Year). Festival days are known as Yom Tovim and many of these days are marked by Jews refraining from working
As far as it concerns Israel's culture, you may find out that Israelian writers and performers, painters, sculptors, and photographers have always examined personal and social issues relating to Jewish identity and statehood. Many Israeli artists and sculptors, including Yaacov Agam, Dani Karavan, and Reuvin Rubin, have even gained international recognition for their work. Filmmaking is also a growing market in Israel and had begun in the 1950s and since has developed strongly under the Israel Film Center. It’s worthy to note, for example, the succes of Hanna Laszlo and "Free Zone" by Amos Gitai at this year’s Cannes edition.
There are many other interesting aspects about this country. In Israel, reservists are bossed around and commanded by officers, male and female, younger than their own children. It is probably one of the few countries in the world where the news is broadcast over the loudspeakers on buses, where people listen to news updates every half hour, or whose people are capable of locating Bosnia on a map of the world. Israel is the only country in the world where one need not check the ingredients on the products in the supermarket to avoid ending up with things containing pork. Old but still good quips say that Israel is the only country in the world where, if someone calls you a "dirty Jew", it means you need a bath; or the only place where making a call to God is a local call…
Itzik also told me that in Israel no one cares what rules say when an important goal can be achieved by bending them(I have noted that and promised to take care of all his actionsJ). He had also told me that in Israel "small talk" consists of loud angry debate over politics and religion and you may surely discover that people not knowing each other always strike up conversations while waiting in lines. I permit myself inquiring about this, as yesterday, when I asked him why was he so quite, he has answered that he believed that every person has a limited numbers of things to say; and when he finishes telling it all, he dies and that’s way he is so nigard with words…But returning to Israel, we might say that there is unfortunately a mindless self-destructive insane side of this country. Life in Israel today threatens to become just such a prison, as the spiral of overwhelming violent reaction to the indiscriminate violence of suicide bombings and the consequent desperate anxiety over security creates more and more barriers and walls. Despite of the welfare, young Israelis are already complaining this is not a very enjoyable way to live or raise a family. Over time, unless one is a refugee, a true believer, or a Palestinian, Israel may simply not be the kind of place that anyone wants to live for very long. In short, even if Israeli is able to wall the Palestinians out forever, it will never be able to wall the Israelis in. Most people don't think there will be peace in the region in the near future. It has been a hot bed and killing field for the last 4,000 years. It would be hard to have peace especially with the current events. But let's hope for the best.



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