Saturday, November 25, 1995
Israel - ome facts
The country is the size of New Jersey, 7,800 sq. mi., without the territories gained in the 6-day war in 1967, a third more (10,700 sq. mi.) with them. Stretching 260 miles North to South, Israel proper is a bit more than 10 miles wide over a 40 mile stretch between Jaffa and Haifa, North of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Sharan. The 1967 march to the West Bank of Jordan River widened Israel to about 50 miles, 60+ at Beersheba. Ten miles further South is Dimona, the heavily guarded atomic installation, at which point the country becomes a triangle, tapering to a point at Elat, Israel's port on the Red Sea.
Of the rapidly growing population of over 5.5 million some 1.3 million are Arabs. They have 10 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and Druses, who make up 20% of the Moslems, serve in the army. Of the Jews, 800,000 are Orthodox.
Many Arabs are rich, and their children study in the Israeli universities, where they make up 10 percent of the student body. The low number is due to Arab reluctance to let women enter universities, not unlike that of the Orthodox Jews.
Under law, Arabs may not have more than one wife. Moslem women are controlled, and girls with short skirts are deemed prostitutes.
Orthodox women also wear long sleeves and skirts. To swim, they go to special women's beaches, or have women's days at the regular beaches.
Military service is obligatory for Jews, as soon as they reach the age of 18 - 3 years for men, 2 for women. Men continue to serve in the reserves 30 days a year until age 50 (it was 65 until recently), women until age 26 or marriage. The reservists may often be put under the command of a 20-year old woman, member of the regular army. The stories about women soldiers being exploited by the men may be based on individual incidents, but in general there is equality, except that women do not do battle duty.
The only Jews who do not serve are the Neture Karta sect, about 20,000 religious who are wards of the state, since the men spend all their time in the yeshiva. They are not part of the assasin conspirators against the peace effort. This conspiracy comes from the settlements in the occupied territories. Claimed to number some 200, there are actually about 50. The counting depends on whether adjacent clusters of houses are considered separately or together. Likewise, the number of settlers is given as 100,000 by the government and 180,000 by the settlers. Again, this depends on whether one includes occupants of vacation homes.
Housing in Israel proper is expensive, and property in the settlement areas was acquired cheaply, sometimes under pressure. The houses are beautiful - driving from Jerusalem to Hebron, the hillside settlements along the road look like pure white castles in the clouds. Many of the settlers are Americans who claimed the right of Aliya, or return.