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Five things to know about Israel

1. Israel wants peace

When late Israeli Prime Minister and President, Shimon Peres, was asked whether he saw a light at the end of the tunnel of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peres answered that he could see the light, but the problem is that there is no tunnel.

Israel wants peace. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe that the Palestinians should have a state as well as the freedom and dignity that comes with self-determination. There is agreement on the solution; the question is how to get from here to there – or how do we build the “tunnel”?

This isn’t a new question. One hundred years ago, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, a commitment to establish a "national home for the Jewish people." Since then, there have been a series of partition or "two-state" proposals, including the Peel Commission and the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Israel has accepted every proposal, yet every proposal has been rejected by Israel’s neighbors. 

After declaring the establishment of the State in 1948, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, immediately called for peace. In response, five surrounding Arab nations declared war on the newborn state. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel offered to return territories in exchange for peace. The Arab League responded with “Three No’s:” no to peace, no to negotiation, and no to recognition.

Between 1993 and 2001, during the Oslo Peace Process, Israel made a series of concessions, reaching the point at Taba Summit of offering the Palestinians a state in all of Gaza — some 95–97% of the West Bank — with compensating border adjustments elsewhere and with East Jerusalem as their capital. This offer was also rejected.

When Israel found itself with a willing peace partner, it made peace. This was the case with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 and King Hussein of Jordan in 1993. Despite the near constant threat of terror, the Israeli people have not given up on peace, and they continue to overwhelmingly support the two-state solution.

2. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East

Israel’s Declaration of Independence states: “[Israel] will ensure… political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

In a region known for repression and hostility, Israel is an island of stability and democracy, thanks to its free press, independent courts, open economy, and lively political discourse. Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which the majority governs but the minority enjoys equal rights. Israel is a nation that embraces diversity and welcomes diverse opinions. 

3. Israel defends the rights of minorities

In a region where women are too often excluded from public life, Israeli women stand out as leaders in law, politics, academics, and business. Gender equality is enshrined in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, and more than forty years ago, Golda Meir became Israel’s Prime Minister — making Israel the third country in the world to elect a woman to its highest office.

Similarly, there is only one place in the Middle East where minorities have the freedom to practice their faith, to change faiths, or to practice no faith at all — and that is in Israel.  In fact, Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing.

Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full democratic rights. Arab-Israelis can be found in Israel’s Supreme Court, in its parliament, academic institutions, leading hospitals, and throughout the business community. 

In much of the Middle East, homosexuality is considered a crime. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, the penalty for homosexuality includes death and lashings. In contrast, Israel is known for being one of the world’s most gay-friendly countries, and Tel Aviv hosts one of the biggest pride parades in the world. In 2012, Tel Aviv was named the world’s top gay city by GayCities.com, and was referred to as “the gayest city on earth” by the Boston Globe.

4. Israel is the Start-Up Nation

Few countries know more about reaping wealth from entrepreneurship than Israel, a tiny nation with few natural resources, difficult farming conditions, and persistent conflict.  Despite these challenges, in just a few short decades, Israel has become a global powerhouse of innovation, with the most start-ups and the third-highest number of patents per capita in the world.  

Today, thousands of products enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world — from drip irrigation technology to flash drives to driving navigation systems — were born in Israel.  In fact, Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship are helping drive Boston's economy, creating 9,000 jobs and $18 billion in economic benefit through Israeli-founded companies.

5. Israel’s secret sauce is chutzpah

Chutzpah means audacity, grit, or guts, and it seems to be encoded into the DNA of the Jewish people. Abraham, the first Jew, had the audacity to argue with God, and the Jewish people inferred that if you can argue with the Divine, surely you can argue with anyone.

In just a few decades, Israel has grown from a developing country to a prosperous member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Much of this success is fueled by chutzpah — Israelis are tenacious and aren’t daunted by failure.  There is a Hebrew expression that says, “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.” While most people fear and avoid failure, Israelis know that it’s impossible to live without failing.  Israelis see setbacks as valuable lessons and stepping stones on the path towards success.  For every challenge, be it military, humanitarian, technological, or otherwise, Israel has risen to the challenge and succeeded against all odds.

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