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Israel Society & Culture: Urban Life

About 92 percent of Israelis live in urban areas. Many modern towns and cities, blending the old and the new, are built on sites known since antiquity - among them Jerusalem, Safed, Be'er Sheva, 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. Development towns such as Karmiel and Kiryat Gat were built in the early years of the state to accommodate the rapid population growth generated by mass immigration, as well as to help distribute the population throughout the country and to promote a closely interlocked rural and urban economy by drawing industry and services to previously unpopulated areas.

Jerusalem, situated in the Judean Hills, is the capital of Israel, the seat of government and the historical, spiritual and national center of the Jewish people since King David made it the capital of his kingdom some 3,000 years ago. Sanctified by religion and tradition, by holy places and houses of worship, it is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims the world over.

Until 1860, Jerusalem was a walled city made up of four quarters - Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, and Christian. At that time, the Jews, who by then comprised the majority of its population, began to establish new neighborhoods outside the walls, forming the nucleus of modern Jerusalem. During three decades of British Mandate administration (1918-48), the city gradually changed from a neglected provincial town of the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917) into a flourishing metropolis, with many new residential neighborhoods, each reflecting the character of the particular group living there.

Following the Arab onslaught against the newly established State of Israel, the city was divided (1949) under Israeli and Jordanian rule, and for the next 19 years concrete walls and barbed wire sealed off one part from the other. As a result of the 1967 Six Day War, the city was reunified.

Today Israel's largest city, Jerusalem has a population of more than 760,000. At once ancient and modern, it is a city of diversity, with inhabitants representing a mixture of cultures and nationalities, of religiously observant and secular lifestyles. It is a city which preserves its past and builds for the future, with carefully restored historical sites, well-landscaped green areas, modern commercial zones, industrial parks and expanding suburbs attesting to its continuity and vitality.

Tel Aviv-Yafo, a modern city on the Mediterranean coast, is Israel's commercial and financial center as well as the focus of its cultural life. Headquartered there are most industrial organizations, the stock exchange, major newspapers, commercial centers, and publishing houses.

Tel Aviv, was founded as the first all-Jewish city in modern times as a suburb of Jaffa (Yafo) in 1909, one of the oldest urban settlements in the world. In 1934, Tel Aviv was granted municipal status, and in 1950 it was renamed Tel Aviv-Yafo, the new municipality absorbing old Jaffa. The area around the ancient port of Jaffa has been developed into an artists' colony and tourist center, with galleries, restaurants, and night clubs. Tel Aviv's "White City," a vast ensemble of buildings from the 1930s-1950s in the Modernist Movement style, has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, rises from the coastline over the slopes of Mount Carmel. It is built on three topographical levels: the lower city, partly on land recovered from the sea, is the commercial center with harbor facilities; the middle level is an older residential area; and the top level consists of rapidly expanding modern neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, parks, and pine woods overlooking the industrial zones and sandy beaches on the shore of the wide bay below. A major deep-water port, Haifa is a focus of international trade and commerce. It also serves as the administrative center of northern Israel.

Safed (Tzfat), perched high in the mountains of Galilee, is a popular summer resort and tourist site, with an artists' quarter and several centuries-old synagogues. In the 16th century, Safed was the most important center of Jewish learning and creativity in the world - the gathering place of rabbis, scholars, and mystics who laid down religious laws and precepts, many of which are still followed by observant Jews today.

Tiberias, on the shore of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), is famous for its therapeutic hot springs. Today the town is a bustling lakeside tourist center, where archeological remains of the past blend with modern houses and hotels. Founded in the 1st century and named for the Roman Emperor Tiberius, it became a center of Jewish scholarship and the site of a wellknown rabbinical academy.

Be'er Sheva, in the northern Negev, is located at the intersection of routes leading to the Dead Sea and Eilat. It is a new city built on an ancient site, dating back to the age of the Patriarchs some 3,500 years ago. Called the 'Capital of the Negev,' Be'er Sheva is an administrative and economic center, with regional government offices and institutions of health, education, and culture which serve all of southern Israel.

Eilat, the country's southernmost city, is Israel's outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Its modern port, believed to be located on the site of a harbor from the time of King Solomon, handles Israel's trade with Africa and the Far East. Warm winters, spectacular underwater scenery, well-appointed beaches, water sports, luxury hotels, and accessibility from Europe via direct charter flights have made Eilat a thriving, year-round tourist resort. Since the establishment of Israeli-Jordanian peace (1994), joint development projects with the neighboring city of Aqaba have been initiated, mainly to boost tourism in the area.

The style of urban building in Israel varies greatly, from structures of past centuries, solid edifices inspired by the renowned architects of pre-World War II Europe and apartment blocks hastily constructed to house new immigrants in the early years of the state, to carefully planned residential neighborhoods, high-rise concrete and glass office buildings and modern luxury hotels.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs